The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) granted a request from T-Mobile US which will speed up the transfer of 600MHz licences from TV broadcasters to mobile operators in Puerto Rico as the island recovers from Hurricane Maria.

TV stations were originally assigned to be part of the FCC’s Phase-3 and Phase-10 transitions, which have scheduled completion dates of 21 June 2019 and 3 July 2020 respectively. However, the FCC granted the stations permission to transition to their post-auction channel assignments prior to the start of Phase-1, which allows operation on the new channels as early as 14 September. Testing at the new stations is now permitted to begin on 1 July.

In a Twitter post, T-Mobile CTO Neville Ray called the decision “great news,” noting it will allow the operator to deploy its 600MHz spectrum on the island “much faster than planned”. FCC chairman Ajit Pai added the decision will allow residents to “access emergency communications and other valuable broadcast content sooner”.

T-Mobile won 50MHz of 600MHz spectrum across Puerto Rico and an average of around 30MHz nationwide during a recent FCC spectrum auction. Earlier this month, T-Mobile reported it deployed 600MHz sites in a total of 586 cities between August and December. Ray noted in December the operator plans to bring “thousands” more sites online in 2018.

Recovery efforts continue
The decision to move quickly in Puerto Rico, however, comes as the island works to recover from Hurricane Maria, which brought widespread devastation in September 2017. The storm wiped out 95 per cent of cell sites and operators are still trying to recover more than 100 days later.

As of 10 January, the FCC reported 10 per cent of cell sites on Puerto Rico are still out of service. In a filing, AT&T noted it restored approximately 85 per cent of network elements including fibre transport equipment, and 47 per cent of fibre facilities affected by the storm.