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Reps. Clarke, Ruiz, Soto and Eshoo to FCC: Make Sure Puerto Rico Stays Connected

Washington, DC – Energy and Commerce Vice Chair Congresswoman Yvette D. Clarke (NY-09) led a letter to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) requesting answers on Puerto Rico’s ability to communicate through its communications network (broadband, wireless and by telephone) after experiencing an earthquake earlier this month amidst the coronavirus pandemic. Representatives Raul Ruiz (CA-36), Darren Soto (FL-09) and Anna Eshoo (CA-18) joined Vice Chair Clarke in this quest for answers on the reliability of this communications network and accountability for Puerto Ricans.   

Clarke said: “The FCC must act now to ensure that the people of Puerto Rico—our fellow American citizens—have the means to stay connected.  Puerto Ricans time and time again have been faced with adversity, but always respond with such courage and resilience. Puerto Ricans deserve a stable and reliable telecommunications network which is why I led a letter seeking answers to FCC Chairman Pai.”

In January, Congresswoman Clarke, along with Reps. Ruiz and Soto, sent a letter to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai to request that the FCC initiates a review of the recent communications network outages in Puerto Rico following two earthquakes that devastated the island earlier in the month, after the lingering impacts of Hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017. 

Chairman Pai responded in February and stated that the FCC immediately began monitoring their Network Outage Reporting System to address impacts to Puerto Rico’s communications infrastructure. He stated that “The FCC remains committed to assisting Puerto Rico’s efforts to strengthen and harden its communications networks…” and continued that the Universal Service Fund had $500 million over 10 years for fixed broadband and $250 over 3 years to support 4G and 5G Networks. 

Since the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been an increased need from strong networks and access to broadband. This current letter requests that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) provide an update on the status of communications networks in Puerto Rico and determine whether its residents have maintained reliable connectivity throughout the coronavirus pandemic

The letter states: “We are deeply concerned about the potential for continued communications disruptions, in light of recent outages following a series of earthquakes that struck the islands and the lingering impact of Hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017 on its networks. Further, we seek clarification on your response to us regarding the recent earthquakes in Puerto Rico to determine whether both the island’s immediate and long-term connectivity needs are met.”  

The coronavirus has underscored the need for strong communication technology in Puerto Rico, to keep family, businesses and loved ones connected during the coronavirus outbreak.The letter calls upon the FCC to shed light on the current situation, and deliver recommendations on sustaining network service in the months to come.

Eshoo said: “The recent devastating earthquakes in Puerto Rico, occurring during the worst pandemic of our lifetimes, has made the need for reliable communications crystal clear. When a natural disaster strikes, telecommunications failures compound damage wrought by the disaster. I’m pleased to join Rep. Clarke in calling on the FCC to ensure dependable connectivity for every American, including those on the island of Puerto Rico.”

Even before COVID-19, there were questions regarding the viability of cellular networks in Puerto Rico following a series of natural disasters that tragically struck the island. This pandemic has only served to heighten these concerns. The FCC must act now to ensure that Puerto Rican’s have not been left without the means to stay connected.

The full letter is available here and below:

May 26, 2020

The Honorable Chairman Ajit V. Pai

Federal Communications Commission

445 12th Street SW

Washington, DC 20554

Dear Chairman Pai:

We write to request that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) provide an update on the status of communications networks in Puerto Rico and determine whether its residents have maintained reliable connectivity throughout the coronavirus pandemic. We are deeply concerned about the potential for continued communications disruptions, in light of recent outages following a series of earthquakes that struck the islands and the lingering impact of Hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017 on its networks. Further, we seek clarification on your response to us regarding the recent earthquakes in Puerto Rico to determine whether both the island’s immediate and long-term connectivity needs are met. The ability to remain connected is critical, but all the more critical during the pandemic.

On May 2, 2020, the U.S. Geological Survey reported that the islands of Puerto Rico experienced a 5.4 magnitude earthquake. This earthquake comes on the heels of 5.8 and 6.5 magnitude earthquakes which caused significant communications and electrical power outages in January. In addition withstanding this ongoing seismic activity, Puerto Rico’s communications networks must be resilient entering the upcoming hurricane season and while its people experience social distancing and shelter-in place mandates.

We continue to worry that Puerto Rico’s communications networks never fully recovered following Hurricanes Irma and Maria. In your response to our inquiry, dated February 14, 2020, describing the status of Puerto Rico’s networks following the January earthquakes, you describe the additional funding the FCC provided to rebuild more resilient networks over a ten-year period. However, you noted that these funds will not be available until later this year. While we appreciate that the FCC is providing this long-term funding, we are also concerned about the immediate connectivity needs of the islands for the 2020 hurricane season during the pandemic. We request that the FCC provide an assessment of the current ability of the networks to withstand hurricanes, earthquakes and the pandemic, and the combined impacts thereof.

Further, your response referenced “the lessons [the island’s telecommunications carriers] learned from Hurricane Maria” and how they “used them to develop more resilient networks[.]” As many areas of the country will be vulnerable to hurricanes and the pandemic, please provide details about the lessons learned by the FCC and telecommunications carriers after Hurricanes Irma and Maria. In particular, we request information on how the FCC has documented and disseminated these lessons to telecommunications carriers and any data collected and analysis conducted by the FCC to determine the efficacy of those lessons.

We appreciate your attention to this important matter. Please provide a response by June 5, 2020.

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