Puerto Rico’s telecom market has been deeply affected in recent years by a combination of economic mismanagement and natural disasters, including two hurricanes which landed in late 2017 and an earthquake which struck in January 2020. The general destruction following the hurricanes led to a marked decline in the number of subscribers for all services, while straightened economic circumstances forced many people not to resume telecom services after these were restored. After some delay, the FCC in late 2019 issued an order relating to the release of funds to help rebuild telecom infrastructure.
Although Puerto Rico is a US territory it lags well behind the mainland US states in terms of fixed-line and broadband penetration. This is partly due to high unemployment rates (and consequently low disposable income) and poor telecoms investment in a market largely dominated by the incumbent Puerto Rico Telephone Company. The activities of the US-based telcos, including T-Mobile US, Sprint and AT&T continue to impact on the Puerto Rican market. This has recently been seen in these operators securing spectrum in the 600MHz, expanding the reach of LTE services and launching services based on 5G.
The Puerto Rico Telephone Company’s fixed-line market dominance was augmented following its acquisition by the largest wireless company in Latin America, América Móvil. In contrast, the mobile (cellular/wireless) market, with six network operators, has been experiencing more robust competition and growth. Although América Móvil’s Claro briefly took the lead from AT&T Mobility in terms of subscriber numbers, AT&T regained the top position following its acquisition of Centennial Communications. In early 2017 Sprint and Open Wireless agreed to merge their networks in a bid to offer better market competition by increasing their scale and combining spectrum holdings.
The acquisition by Liberty Global of the remaining cable TV operator Choice Cable, completed in mid-2015, created a monopoly player in this sector. Liberty Cablevisión, now wholly-owned by Liberty Global’s LLA division, is in a stronger position to capitalise on scale, and so provide improved services based on greater investment and on the use of technology based on the DOCSIS3.1 standard. Liberty Cablevisión has also become better placed in the bundled service market following LLA’s acquisition of AT&T’s wireless and wireline units in Puerto Rico. The deal is expected to complete by mid-2020.
Puerto Rico Telephone Company, América Móvil, AT&T, Liberty Cablevision; OneLink Communications; T-Mobile; Open Mobile; Sprint PCS; Choice Cable.
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