by Henry Rivera, Chairman, MMTC

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Implementation of the National Broadband Plan (NBP) in Puerto Rico has thus far proven to be a significant hurdle for the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). The NBP was well received by the telecommunications and technology industries, policymakers, and several leading national Hispanic, Asian, and African American groups, all of which are quickly realizing that, without access to broadband services, they will not be able to compete and participate in the 21st century’s digital economy.

In a recent study conducted by the U.S. Government Accountability Office, the U.S. fared very well in its broadband deployment, with more subscribers of broadband residing in the U.S. than anywhere else in the world. While shortcomings still exist, the state of broadband in the U.S. fares better than or equal to all 33 countries within the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), which are lauded as the most economically prosperous countries worldwide. However, the FCC’s recent study on broadband adoption found that no one in Puerto Rico has access to broadband.

Consider the following:

  • 1/6 of Americans (3,954,000 people) without broadband access live in Puerto Rico, which accounts for almost the entire population of Puerto Rico.
  • Broadband download speeds for Puerto Rico fall below 1.0 Mbps (below that of Mexico and all 33 OECD countries), while U.S. download speeds average nearly 3.8 Mbps.
  • Puerto Rico has a population greater than 24 U.S. states but an average median household income of only $13,189, compared to $34,809 for all areas of the United States and $28,627 for unserved areas generally. Poverty is a significant issue in Puerto Rico, with 44.8% of Puerto Rico’s residents living below the poverty line.
  • Puerto Rico has by far the lowest telephone penetration rate of any U.S. state. Prior Census studies suggest the actual telephone penetration rate may lie somewhere between 73% and 80%, while the local regulator in Puerto Rico estimates the rate at 40%.

We know that the goal of the FCC (as stated in the NBP) is to ensure that all Americans have access to broadband services. Why, then, has the broadband bus bypassed Puerto Rico? For an island that is experiencing even greater economic woes than the rest of the United States, broadband deployment in Puerto Rico should be an even greater priority for the FCC, particularly given broadband’s proven ability to stimulate the economy and foster job growth.

Ultimately, when we talk about the disenfranchised minority communities that do not have access to broadband services, we have to talk about the poster child for these communities – Puerto Rico, which represents a significant percentage of America’s Hispanic population. We also have to wonder why the FCC has had such difficulty doing something about this problem. The Commission has a vested interest in ensuring that residents of Puerto Rico do not get left behind in the new digital society, yet the FCC has found a remedy elusive.

The people of Puerto Rico hope that the Commission’s inability to craft a remedy is a temporary state of affairs and that the FCC will soon find a way to fix the lack of broadband access in Puerto Rico.

In response to the Commission’s study on broadband adoption, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski stated, “…when up to 24 million Americans don’t have access to a communications technology that is essential to participation in our 21st Century economy and democracy, I think that is unacceptable.” The Commission should extend these sentiments to Puerto Rico. Lack of broadband access for anyone in Puerto Rico is a cry for swift remedial action by the Commission.