Puerto Rico receives $335 million federal injection for broadband connectivity
Enrique Völckers Nin, executive director of the Smart Island program.
By THE STAR STAFF
The federal government has allocated $334.6 million to Puerto Rico as part of the Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment Program, Gov. Pedro Pierluisi Urrutia announced Monday.
The multimillion-dollar injection is in addition to some $400 million in local funds to improve connectivity throughout the island, as well as a first disbursement of $100 million, of which $5 million is earmarked for planning efforts to develop projects that help close the digital divide in Puerto Rico.
“Puerto Rico has proven to be one of the jurisdictions with the best results and the fastest pace [with connectivity], which it has achieved thanks to the various initiatives we have promoted under the Smart Island program,” the governor said. “I thank the Biden-Harris administration for recognizing the effort of the Broadband program. This historic allocation represents greater access to funds that will allow us to improve the critical telecommunications infrastructure on the island so that we have a resilient system that provides all of Puerto Rico with high-speed internet access.”
Since the start of the Smart Island program, and in conjunction with municipalities, nonprofit organizations and the federal government, and with the support of citizens through the Connectivity survey, nearly 100,000 localities with specific needs have been identified, such as internet speed of less than 25 megabits per second. Locations that need superior internet infrastructure for reliable connectivity include mountainous or difficult-to-access regions.
Pierluisi added that the work to achieve the allocation began more than six months ago in conjunction with the National Telecommunications and Information Administration and the Biden-Harris administration.
The executive director of the Smart Island program, Enrique Völckers Nin, who was invited to make the announcement along with President Joe Biden, said “our agenda is undoubtedly ambitious and broad, but very promising.”
“We are completely focused on achieving connectivity for the entire island so that Puerto Ricans have high-speed internet,” he said.
Under the Smart Island program, projects focused on reducing the digital divide in Puerto Rico have been launched, such as the investment of $50 million for the Public Wi-Fi Program (Puerto Rico Wi-Fi Public Access), which will allow, in its first phase, the creation of 190 public Wi-Fi spaces in 46 municipalities of the island. Officials worked to identify localities with the municipalities, ranging from libraries, public buildings used for citizen services, spas, public squares and community centers to parks, linear walks, boat terminals, scenic view sites and market squares.
In addition, the federal government has recognized the extraordinary implementation of the Internet Subsidy program in Puerto Rico, and some $30 million has been allocated for Internet Resilience and Hardening, a program that will provide funds to island internet providers to improve their infrastructure so that it is more resilient in the face of adverse weather and other events. With the funds, providers will be able to purchase equipment such as electrical generators, solar panels and batteries so that, in the event of an emergency, service availability continues.
Likewise, in the coming months, officials will start the design phase of a $250 million project to bury optical fiber.