Jorge Martel invests in Puerto Rico
By Patricia Guadalupe
Few know that the first plane to land in Puerto Rico after Hurricane María devastated the island four years ago was chartered by telecommunications company T-Mobile. It was carrying a giant generator loaned to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to power up the radars and get the island’s main international airport in San Juan up and running again, just days after the storm.
T-Mobile’s actions represent the company’s deep commitment to the island that continues to this day, says Jorge Martel, T-Mobile’s VP & General Manager on the island. “First of all, we needed to make sure all of our employees were okay and had what they needed. All of the communications were down, the circuits were literally blown away, and substations, connecting the island with the rest of the world, were underwater. You couldn’t even use an ATM because there was no electricity anywhere on the Island. Everyone pitched in to get the network back up. All of us were basically part of the engineering team”.
“Our employees all got a portable generator, either electric or solar. We wanted to make sure everyone was able to communicate. That created a lot of goodwill. And when we were able to open up our stores, we expected people would come in for chargers and batteries, but we saw a lot of traffic for phones and other devices,” Martel adds.
But it goes beyond hurricane relief. Martel tells LATINO Magazine that T-Mobile is poised to be in Puerto Rico long-term, pointing to the company’s commitment to bring next-generation service to the island. “After Hurricane Maria, we rebuilt our network so it was ready for 5Gconnectivity,” says Martel.
The necessity for reliable broadband service has been made especially relevant since COVID-19 forced schools in Puerto Rico to go online. “We see during the pandemic how distance learning is key and Puerto Rico has limited high speed fixed broadband availability, so one of our objectives is to reach rural areas and provide them with high speed connections, something probably only accessible in few mostly urban areas,” says Martel, “so that your economic situation or where you were born will not dictate how far you can go.”
T-Mobile also received funds from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to help restore networks devastated by the hurricane, not just to cities but rural areas. “That’s a focus for us---rural areas. We are committed to bring rural areas up to speed,” says Martel.
The FCC funds have helped T-Mobile make Puerto Rico a leader for 5G, with higher reliability and speed, and that funding was the first time the FCC earmarked monies specifically for deploying 5G network wireless connectivity. The program Uniendo a Puerto Rico Fund (Bringing Puerto Rico Together Fund) conceived in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, is destined to further strengthen network reliability and boost 5G deployment.
“While other national wireless carriers have no presence in Puerto Rico, T-Mobile is doubling down and making significant multi-million dollar investments in our network and customer service on the island,” says Martel. “T-Mobile has the most robust 5G coverage in areas of all municipalities in Puerto Rico, including the Islands of Vieques and Culebra.”
Last December, T-Mobile introduced Project 10Million, which offers 100GB of data per year for free and a free mobile hotspot for five years to eligible households. The program allows eligible students the option to purchase additional data at low cost if needed, and has been a big hit in the island. “We’re glad to see a lot of students out there communicating with teachers through Project 10Million,” says Martel.
Another project T-Mobile is involved with on the island is Distrito T-Mobile, a new 476,000 square-foot entertainment complex in San Juan that includes a hotel, a drive-in movie theater, and a musical hall for concerts, along with restaurants, gaming areas, and even a zipline. It also includes one of the largest horizontal ceiling LED TV screens in North America. “It’s in a prime location. We’re glad to be part of it and it shows that we are committed to the long-term recovery of the economy here in Puerto Rico,” says Martel. Distrito T-Mobile is one of four major T-Mobile venues nationwide.
In 2021, the outlook is good for T-Mobile in Puerto Rico and the island will benefit from it. In fact, Puerto Rico is one of the company’s highest growing areas. “2020 threw us a curveball like it did to everyone, and this year we’ve started off strong. We’re opening new distribution in the western part of the island. We’re seeing considerable growth in the areas that we call ‘beyond the smartphone,’ which is everything from smart watches & hotspots to tablets,” says Martel. “T-Mobile’s leadership has really invested in Puerto Rico and are very supportive. That has been rewarded in the market. Customers see it, they see T-Mobile is here for the long run. We’re here to grow, and we started the year opening 70 new jobs. The economy here is still very fragile but being able to do that makes it very rewarding. At T-Mobile, we are confident the future is bright for Puerto Rico.”