O’Rielly Votes for Puerto Rico Aid After Getting 911 Assurance

Puerto Rico will not divert future 911 fees for other purposes, Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló told FCC Commissioner Mike O’Rielly in a letter dated Wednesday. As a result of the assurance, Mr. O’Rielly has voted for an item to allocate $750 million in universal service funding to support the restoration and expansion of communications networks in Puerto Rico.

Gov. Rosselló replied to a letter that Mr. O’Rielly sent last month criticizing Puerto Rico’s diversion of 911 funds in the past and suggesting he would oppose additional universal service funding to the island if it doesn’t end the diversion practice (TR Daily, April 24).

Mr. O’Rielly’s letter responded to a March 7 letter from Gov. Rosselló that responded to a Feb. 20 letter that Mr. O’Rielly sent the governors of Puerto Rico, New York, Oklahoma, Missouri, Montana, the Northern Mariana Islands, 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 March 7 letter, Gov. Rosselló 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.”

In his Wednesday letter to Mr. O’Rielly, the governor said that his administration reported the fee diversion that occurred during the previous administration and “requested an audit of 9-1-1 operations in Puerto Rico.”

“You also questioned whether such diversions will occur in the future. To be clear, we will not allow any utilization of 9-1-1 funds for purposes other than those authorized under applicable laws, rules, and regulations,” he added. “To that effect, we have also initiated steps to submit amendments to the current state law that led to said diversion of funds, and we will be withholding future payments to the Treasury Department.

“I trust that my assurances in this matter will put to rest this issue and that Puerto Rico will be a recipient of funding currently under consideration, aimed at rebuilding Puerto Rico’s communications infrastructure,” Gov. Rosselló  added.

In response to the letter, a spokeswoman for Mr. O’Rielly said today, “Commissioner O’Rielly is satisfied with this response and has voted to approve the item.”

The proposal circulated by FCC Chairman Ajit Pai in March (TR Daily, March 6) would also provide $204 million in support for the U.S. Virgin Islands. The item is an order and notice of proposed rulemaking. — Courtesy TR Daily