By Rafael A. Fantauzzi, President & CEO, National Puerto Rican Coalition, Inc.
Washington, DC – Recently, the Federal Communications Commission (“FCC”) treated Puerto Rico and its elected representatives with disregard and disrespect. It held that Puerto Ricans don’t deserve the same quality of access to telecommunications services that other Americans enjoy. This is wrong and this must be reversed.
Congress created the FCC for the express purpose of ensuring that “all the people of the United States” have comparable access to telecommunications services “without discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, or sex.” In furtherance of this fundamental right, Congress directed the FCC to provide funding to ensure universal access to communications services. And Congress specifically required the FCC to provide the financial support necessary to ensure that equal quality telecommunications services in “insular areas,” like Puerto Rico, are both available and affordable.
The FCC, however, turned its back on this duty and the Commonwealth. The FCC decided not to provide the funding necessary to ensure Puerto Rico has equal quality universal telephone service. Instead, the Commission said that having affordable wire line telephone service isn’t important in Puerto Rico because, in the FCC’s view, we can make do with cell phone service. What the FCC did not say is that this is a double standard that discriminates against Puerto Rico because the FCC’s policies on the mainland have ensured affordable access to both wire line and wireless services.
At bottom, we have a real need for the support Congress directed the FCC to provide. Despite the advances seen in other parts of the country, many in Puerto Rico still lack access to basic telephone and Internet services. In fact, Puerto Rico has the largest population of persons who lack access to any wire line telecommunications service—a staggeringly high 200,000 individuals and approximately 200 communities. Moreover, many of these same communities lack access to wireless telecommunications due to weak coverage in the inland mountains.
Had the FCC followed Congress’s direction, Puerto Ricans would be assured of the affordable access to equal quality telecommunications they are entitled to. And we are not just talking about voice services. Before the FCC made its decision, the Puerto Rico Telephone Company offered a commitment to use these funds to deploy voice and broadband-capable infrastructure. This would not only have ensured access to wired telephone service, it would have provided a running start toward efforts to bring broadband to more of the citizens of the Commonwealth.
On the same day that the FCC turned its back on the people of Puerto Rico, it granted a substantial increase in financial support to wire line systems in Wyoming—despite the fact that Puerto Rico has seven times the population of Wyoming and 40 percent of Puerto Rico’s population is living below the poverty line. For those of us who want to ascribe a neutral, objective basis to the FCC’s decision-making, this decision simply makes no sense.
It is time to let the FCC know that it can no longer relegate Puerto Ricans to steerage while the rest of the United States goes first class. Thankfully, the fight is not over and we are not alone. Representatives in Washington—including Resident Commissioner Pedro R. Pierluisi, Representative Nydia M. Velázquez, Representative Luis V. Gutierrez, and Representative José E. Serrano—have been working hard to urge the FCC to treat Puerto Ricans fairly, as federal law requires. The FCC’s decision to ignore these requests reveals a profound disrespect not only for those living in Puerto Rico but for these representatives as well. We must urge them to continue to fight for us and support them in the coming days as they tell the FCC to do its job and reverse its discriminatory decision.
The author is President and CEO of the National Puerto Rican Coalition, Inc., a nonpartisan, non-profit organization based in Washington, D.C., whose mission is to strengthen and enhance the social, political, and economic well-being of Puerto Ricans throughout the U.S and Puerto Rico, with a special focus on the most vulnerable.
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