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By David Shepardson
WASHINGTON, Oct 4 (Reuters) - The U.S. Federal Communications Commission on Wednesday approved 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 Tuesday, 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. 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 had proposed on Tuesday tapping 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.
The five-member FCC unanimously approved “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,” Pai said.
In a statement on Tuesday, network provider AT&T Inc 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 Lisa Shumaker and Marguerita Choy)