FCC Commissioner Mike O’Rielly today criticized Puerto Rico’s diversion of 911 funds and suggested he would oppose approving additional universal service funds to the island if it doesn’t end the diversion practice.
Mr. O’Rielly wrote a letter dated today to Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello Nevares responding to a March 7 letter the governor wrote him that responded to a Feb. 20 letter that Mr. O’Rielly sent to the governors of Puerto Rico, New York, Oklahoma, Missouri, Montana, Northern Mariana, and Guam asking why they did not submit requested information to the FCC for its latest annual report on 911 fund diversions (TR Daily, Feb. 20).
In his letter to Mr. O’Rielly, Gov. Nevares said that Puerto Rico collected the requested information but did not send it “due to a clerical error. We have taken measures to ensure that this situation does not happen again and we include herein the forms for the requested year.”
He said that in 2016, the year covered by the most recent FCC 911 diversion report, former Puerto Rico Gov. Alejandro Garcia Padilla diverted $243,100 in 911 fees “under the legal authority conferred” by a law that “established that all savings in areas such as 9-1-1 fees must be transferred to the Workforce and Economic Development Promotion Fund under the Trade and Export Company of Puerto Rico.”
Gov. Nevares added “that addressing the capabilities of our 9-1-1 system is a high priority in Puerto Rico” and he said “that we fully understand that maintaining and operating the system is key to guaranteeing the public safety of our citizens.”
In his response today, Mr. O’Rielly said, “Of all places, I do not think I need to remind you how important 9-1-1 can be during critical times of need. … If a surplus of 9-1-1 fees is amassed and revenue is not needed for these purposes, fees should not be collected from the consumer, especially given the devastation and personal losses your residents have endured over the last year.”
He asked “whether Puerto Rico has any concrete plans to change its 9-1-1 fee diversion practices. Specifically, do you support the end of such budgetary maneuvers?” He asked whether the governor is “prepared to help take steps to amend this act to ensure that all savings should be returned to the ratepayer or invested in network upgrades rather than diverted to a ‘separate’ fund?”
Mr. O’Rielly also noted that “the Commission is currently considering contributing additional universal service fund (USF) dollars toward the rebuilding of Puerto Rico’s communications infrastructure. As a steward of such ratepayer collected funding, I would find it difficult to support such a move without strong assurances that Puerto Rico is prepared to put an end to fee diversion practices once and for all. Without this guarantee, the Commission is putting precious USF support at risk for being wasted or diverted.”- Paul Kirby, firstname.lastname@example.org