FCC proposes extra funds to restore Puerto Rico comms

FILE PHOTO: Ajit Pai, Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, testifies before a Senate Appropriations Financial Services and General Government Subcommittee on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., June 20, 2017. REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The chairman of the U.S. telecoms regulator on Tuesday proposed making available up to $77 million to fund repairs of communication networks and restore services in storm-lashed Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

As of Monday – almost two weeks after Hurricane Maria walloped Puerto Rico, knocking out its electric grid – nearly 90 percent of cell phone sites on the island remained out of service, according to the U.S. Federal Communications Commission.

Almost 70 percent of cell towers remained out in the U.S. Virgin Islands, with little progress made over the last week.

FCC chairman Ajit Pai said on Tuesday that he wants carriers to be advanced money from the U.S. government’s Universal Service Fund “to expedite repair and restoration efforts.”

The fund provides federal subsidies to companies to make communications services more accessible and affordable in places where the cost is high.

Pai said he wants the FCC to approve giving carriers “up to seven months of their normal federal support in advance – right now, in a lump sum – to help them repair their networks and restore service to consumers.”

The FCC’s five-member board is not due to meet to consider the chairman’s proposal until Oct. 24, although it could meet earlier if all the commissioners agree.

In a statement, network provider AT&T Inc <T.N> praised the FCC efforts at rebuilding communications infrastructure.

The company will “closely assess the details of the chairman’s proposal as we continue with the recovery and restoration of our network and facilities,” it said.

Wireless companies have been setting up temporary cell sites and bringing in equipment but still face hurdles with widespread power outages.

Much of the landline network was also badly damaged.


(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Rosalba O’Brien)


Texas gives Houston $50 million for Hurricane Harvey costs

Texas gives Houston $50 million for Hurricane Harvey costs

(Reuters) – Texas Governor Greg Abbott on Friday gave $50 million to Houston to help cover costs related to Hurricane Harvey, a move the mayor said will allow the city to avoid a temporary property tax hike that was up for a city council vote in October.

Mayor Sylvester Turner, who accepted the money from the Republican governor at a city hall press conference, said he will pull his proposal for a one-year tax increase to cover the city’s share of debris removal expenses and for insurance-related payments.

Parts of Houston suffered severe wind and flood damage after Hurricane Harvey made landfall on Aug. 25. It was the strongest hurricane to hit Texas in more than 50 years.

Earlier this week, Abbott rejected Turner’s request for the state to immediately tap its $10 billion rainy day fund to aid its largest city.

On Friday, the governor said he had the flexibility to withdraw $50 million from a state disaster relief fund for Houston.

“This looked like the best solution at this point,” Abbott told reporters.

He added that once the state gets a handle on total hurricane expenses, the Texas legislature will consider tapping into the rainy day fund when its next regular session begins in January 2019 or sooner in a special session.

(Reporting by Karen Pierog; Editing by Sandra Maler)