PRWireless, Inc., d/b/a Open Mobile has asked the FCC for an emergency waiver of Universal Service Fund rules “to enable the Company to restore critical wireless service in Puerto Rico following the epic devastation caused by Hurricane Maria.”
Specifically, it asked for a temporary increase in high-cost support to bring its monthly support back up to 100% of its legacy high-cost support, before a 2014 order freezing its support at 60% of 2011 levels, and that such increase begin immediately and continue “through the end of Calendar Year 2019. This would mean supplemental support of $524,823 per month for the last quarter of 2017, totaling approximately $1.5 million, another $6.3 million in 2018, and an identical amount in 2019, for a grand total of approximately $14 million in supplemental support.”
It also asked that its 2017 Universal Service Fund contributions be deferred until the 2018 true-up process, given that its actual revenues will be “far” lower than the projected revenues on which USF contributions are based.
It also asked for a temporary increase of $25 per month in per-subscriber Lifeline support in light of expectations that already relatively high Puerto Rican unemployment levels will “skyrocket” and “remain high as the island rebuilds.” It also asked for an extension of recently granted waivers of certain Lifeline recertification and de-enrollment deadlines.
“Much of the Company’s rural infrastructure was built with the assistance of federal high? cost support. Without assistance, Open Mobile may soon be forced to make extraordinarily difficult triage choices regarding what can be restored, and whether it should be restored. To date, Open Mobile has identified at least $25 million in losses, and that number is expected to grow significantly as a complete assessment is done. The Company must meet the challenges of restoring service and rebuilding its network during a time when it has no customer revenue — a situation that is expected to last for months,” it said.
It added that it “does not know the extent to which the damage will be covered by insurance, and any such coverage will not be provided until approximately one year from now. Open Mobile requires an immediate cash infusion to accelerate recovery efforts, to assist it in restoring service, including but not limited to the clearing and rebuilding of access roads to remote cell sites, acquisition of generators and the fuel to operate them, deployment of cells on wheels (‘COWs’), and ordering new towers, replacement parts, and virtually all facilities essential to operating its network.”
Open Mobile said that it appreciates FCC Chairman Ajit Pai’s “proposal” — adopted and released today — for advancing seven months’ worth of high-cost support to eligible telecommunications carriers in the affected area (see separate story), but noted that, “[a]s Open Mobile understands it, however, support advanced would mean there would be a seven?month gap in support down the road.” Nor would such support be adequate to the task, it said.
Open Mobile said that its “network has suffered unprecedented and catastrophic damage that the Company has not yet been able to fully quantify. For those areas where Open Mobile has been able to survey, it has discovered a variety of challenges crippling its network. So far, Open Mobile’s survey indicates that 70% of cell towers require significant repair or outright due to building damage. Factors such as lack of access or lack of able workers who are cut off and unable to report are hampering a full accounting nearly two weeks following landfall.”
In addition, all of its cell sites currently lack electric power from the grid, it said.
Describing the impact of the hurricane and resulting communications outages, Open Mobile said, “In some cases, hospitals lacking power have not been able to move critically ill patients to functioning medical facilities where they may receive treatment because family members could not be reached via telephone. Residents have had to travel significant distances to find spots where they can pick up a signal to call family on the U.S. mainland. Many cannot travel as they are trapped in communities cut off by roads blocked by debris or washed away altogether. Trucks cannot move emergency supplies such as food or water to places in need because dispatchers cannot be in contact with drivers. At night, the darkness and the chaotic recovery situation make for perilous conditions. Employees of Open Mobile cannot devote all their attention to the Company’s recovery as they must worry about the safety of their families and property. Copper theft and fiber cuts add to the challenges of restoring service. Diesel fuel is being stolen from generators.” —Lynn Stanton, firstname.lastname@example.org