Bringing Puerto Rico Together (Uniendo a Puerto Rico) Fund and the Connect USVI Fund
In 2017, Hurricanes Irma and Maria left catastrophic destruction across the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, decimating infrastructure and impacting the lives of American citizens. To support the long road to recovery, the FCC made available up to $76.9 million in High Cost Universal Service funding to meet the immediate needs of eligible telecommunications carriers on the islands, assist with repair costs and restore critical communications networks.
The following year, the FCC established the Bringing Puerto Rico Together (Uniendo a Puerto Rico) Fund and the Connect USVI Fund (PR/USVI Fund) to support the restoration, expansion and upgrade of fixed and mobile communications networks on the islands.
Stage 1 of the PR/USVI Fund provided approximately $51.2 million in new support to carriers in Puerto Rico and $13 million in new support to carriers in the U.S. Virgin Islands to help restore voice and broadband service. The FCC also declined to recover from future payments $65.8 million in advanced emergency funding already provided to Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands immediately after the storms, effectively converting it into new funding.
For Stage 2, the FCC in 2019 allocated $950 million to rebuild, expand and harden fixed and mobile voice and broadband networks across Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands to ensure that communications systems on the islands are capable of withstanding future storms. Stage 2 included a budget of $504.7 million to support investment in fixed networks over 10 years and $254.4 million to support investment in mobile networks over three years in Puerto Rico, and a budget of $186.5 million to support investment in fixed networks over 10 years and $4.4 million to support investment in mobile networks over three years in the Virgin Islands.
Support for Mobile Providers
In 2020, the commission authorized $233.9 million in Stage 2 mobile support to three carriers serving Puerto Rico, and $4 million in Stage 2 mobile support to two carriers serving the Virgin Islands, to expand and harden 4G LTE networks and deploy next-generation 5G networks across the islands. Carriers could elect to use up to 75 percent of this funding for the restoration, hardening and expansion of networks capable of providing 4G LTE or better service, and up to 25 percent for the deployment of 5G technology.
Support for Fixed Providers
To award Stage 2 fixed support, the commission used a competitive proposal process that weighed carrier proposals based on price, network performance (including speed, latency, and usage allowance) and network resiliency and redundancy. In 2021, after this competitive process was complete, the commission authorized $127.1 million in Stage 2 fixed support to two carriers to provide fixed voice and broadband service to more than 1.2 million locations across Puerto Rico’s 78 municipios, and $84.5 in Stage 2 fixed support to one carrier to provide fixed voice and broadband service to more than 46,000 locations in the Virgin Islands.
In Puerto Rico, more than two thirds of locations served will have access to download speeds of at least 100 megabits per second (Mbps) and more than 30 percent will have access to downstream speeds of 1 gigabit per second. In the Virgin Islands, all locations served will have access to downstream speeds of 1 gigabit per second.
How the Program Works
Carriers receiving PR/USVI Stage 2 support must submit a Disaster Preparation and Response Plan (DPRP) describing methods and procedures for preparing for and responding to a disaster -including details on how a carrier will strengthen its infrastructure, ensure network diversity and backup power, monitor its network and plan for an emergency. Please see appendix B of FCC DA 19-995 for a description of the five criteria that carriers must address in the Disaster Preparation and Response Plan. Carriers must also provide the FCC with an updated plan whenever they make material changes.
Carriers receiving PR/USVI Stage 2 support must also certify that they are an Eligible Telecommunications Carrier (ETC) throughout their service area, including the areas where they will provide service using PR/USVI support.
In addition, carriers receiving fixed support must submit a Letter of Credit (LOC) equal to at least the amount of the first year of authorized support, along with a Bankruptcy of Credit Opinion letter from legal counsel. Please see attachment B of FCC DA 20-1299 for an example of a Letter of Credit. LOC requirements will increase over the first three years of the program – to 18 months of total support in year two, two years of total support in year three and three years of total support in year four.
Carriers receiving PR/USVI Stage 2 fixed support must fulfill their total build-out obligations over six years of the 10-year program, and meet interim deployment milestones along the way. Carriers must report and certify all locations deployed in the prior year on an annual in the High Cost Universal Broadband (HUBB) portal, and should be prepared to provide documentation to the High Cost compliance team to substantiate build-out. The USAC compliance team will conduct verification reviews of both interim and final milestones to confirm deployment to a sample of locations reported in the HUBB.
After a carrier certifies – and USAC verifies – that it has met its 100 percent deployment milestone, USAC will prepare a final verification report and send it to the FCC for review. The carrier may be released from its LOC if the FCC determines that the carrier has satisfied all deployment obligations under the program. Both USAC and the FCC will sign off on the release of the LOC, and USAC will return the LOC to the carrier and/or its bank.
Any carrier receiving PR/USVI Stage 2 support that meets its total deployment obligation before the end of year six may be released from its LOC after review and approval by USAC and the FCC. If a carrier certifies in the HUBB that it has completed its total build out ahead of the program schedule, the USAC compliance team will initiate the verification process as soon as possible.
In addition, the FCC has issued a waiver that allows carriers receiving PR/USVI Stage 2 fixed support to comply with LOC rules for the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF). This means that any carrier receiving PR/USVI Stage 2 fixed support may:
- obtain a LOC valued at an amount equal to 18 months of support (as opposed to 24 months) for year two of the support term
- reduce its LOC value to one year of support upon verification by the USAC compliance team that the carrier has met an optional 20 percent buildout milestone by the end of its second year of support and meets its remaining service milestones on a timely basis
- request a USAC verification review of a deployment milestone at any time, instead of waiting until the end of a specific support year, in order to reduce its LOC value
Carriers receiving PR/USVI Stage 2 fixed support should familiarize themselves with USAC’s verification review process and procedures, and understand what documentation they may need to supply for the compliance team to verify buildout, before requesting a review. Carriers can contact email@example.com to initiate a verification review of the optional 20 percent milestone.
Any carrier receiving PR/USVI Stage 2 fixed support may be subject to non-compliance measures if it fails to meet its build-out obligations and/or other service requirements. Non-compliance measures may include additional reporting requirements, reduction of support or a draw on the carrier’s LOC.
Deployment obligations for Mobile Providers
Carriers receiving PR/USVI Stage 2 mobile support must restore network coverage to pre-hurricane levels, as reported on a carrier’s 2017 FCC Form 477 filing, using 4G LTE or better technology. Carriers must restore at least 66 percent of network coverage by the end of year two of the three-year program and 100 percent of network coverage or better by the end of year three. In areas where network restoration is complete, carriers must use Stage 2 support to harden, upgrade or expand their 4G LTE and 5G networks.
The FCC will require carriers to submit evidence of network coverage, including shape files, site coverage plots illustrating the area reached by mobile services, lists of census blocks reached by mobile services and the results of drive, drone and/or scattered site tests. In addition, the FCC will require carriers to identify on a map where they have undertaken network hardening activities, along with a detailed description of those activities and the role of PR/USVI support in funding them.
Carriers that elect to use up to 25 percent of their support to deploy 5G networks must certify to the total costs incurred and the total amount of PR/USVI support spent on this deployment and must provide a detailed description of how the support was used.
Deployment obligations for Fixed Providers
Carriers receiving PR/USVI Stage 2 fixed support must offer stand-alone voice service and broadband service at the speeds pledged in the winning Stage 2 proposals – and that are at least 25 megabits per second downstream and 3 megabits per second upstream (25/3 Mbps) – to all locations within an awarded area over six years of the 10-year program.
Fixed carriers must complete deployment to:
- 40 percent of locations after the third year of support (2024)
- 60 percent after the fourth year of support (2025)
- 80 percent after the fifth year of support (2026)
- 100 percent after the sixth year of support (2027)
The FCC will establish a location adjustment process, including a stakeholder comment period, to resolve discrepancies in location deployment obligations.
Annual Reporting Requirements
Carriers receiving PR/USVI Stage 2 fixed support must comply with the following filing and certification requirements annually:
- March 1: Submit geolocated broadband deployment data showing where the carrier built out broadband by latitude and longitude in the previous calendar year. Submit Locations in the HUBB. USAC will conduct verification reviews to confirm deployment to a sample of locations reported in the HUBB following each deployment milestone. Carriers must notify the FCC and USAC, and relevant state, U.S. Territory or Tribal governments if applicable, within 10 business days after the applicable deadline if they have failed to meet a build-out milestone (see 47 CFR Section 54.320(d)).
- July 1: File and certify FCC Form 481 (Carrier Data Annual Collection Form). File Online
- October 1: Certify that the carrier has used High Cost funding correctly per program rules. Most carriers are certified by their states. If not subject to state jurisdiction, the carrier must file directly with USAC and the FCC. Learn more.
All carriers receiving PR/USVI Fund Stage 2 support – mobile and fixed – must certify annually that they have recently reviewed and made any necessary updates to their Disaster Preparation and Response Plan.
- FCC makes available emergency funding to restore communications networks in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands (DA 17-129)
- FCC allocates allocation of PR/USVI Fund Stage 1 funding and seeks comment on Stage 2 funding for long-term rebuilding (DA 18-57)
- FCC allocates Stage 2 funding to rebuild, improve and expand communications networks in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands (DA 19-95)
- FCC announces deadline for carriers to elect PR/USVI Fund Stage 2 mobile support (DA 19-1155)
- FCC releases reserve prices and location counts for PR/USVI Fund Stage 2 fixed support bidding process (DA 19-1300)
- FCC releases filing requirements and procedures for PR/USVI Fund Stage 2 fixed support bidding process (DA 20-133)
- FCC releases draft copy of application form for PR/USVI Fund Stage 2 fixed support bidding process (DA 20-323)
- FCC approves $237.9 million in PR/USVI Fund Stage 2 mobile support (DA 20-625)
- FCC resolves petitions related to PR/USVI Fund Stage 2 fixed support bidding process (DA 20-838)
- FCC releases updated reserve prices and location counts for PR/USVI Fund Stage 2 fixed support bidding process (DA 20-839)
- FCC announces opening of filing window for PR/USVI Fund Stage 2 fixed support bidding process (DA 20-844)
- FCC denies request for waiver in PR/USVI Fund Stage 2 fixed support bidding process (DA 20-929)
- FCC denies request to extend PR/USVI Fund Stage 2 fixed support application deadline (DA 20-1016)
- FCC announces applications in PR/USVI Fund Stage 2 fixed support bidding process (DA 20-1090)
- FCC authorizes Connect USVI Fund Stage 2 mobile support (DA 20-1231)
- FCC announces winning applicants in Uniendo a Puerto Rico Fund Stage 2 fixed support bidding process (DA 20-1299)
- FCC announces winning applicants in Connect USVI Fund Stage 2 fixed support bidding process (DA 20-1351)
- FCC authorizes Connect USVI Fund Stage 2 fixed support (DA 21-666)
- FCC denies petition related to Connect USVI Fund Stage 2 fixed support bidding process (DA 21-667)
- FCC authorizes Uniendo a Puerto Rico Stage 2 fixed support (DA 21-718)