Puerto Rico had one of the most dynamic economies in the Caribbean region until 2006; however, growth has been negative for each of the last 11 years. The downturn coincided with the phaseout of tax preferences that had led US firms to invest heavily in the Commonwealth since the 1950s, and a steep rise in the price of oil, which generates most of the island’s electricity.
The Internet penetration rate was close to 83% in early 2017. The country has a modern telecommunications system integrated with that of the US by high-capacity submarine cable and Intelsat with high-speed data capability. Submarine cables provide connectivity to the US, Caribbean, Central and South America.
Puerto Rico has one of the highest mobile penetration rates in the Latin American and the Caribbean region, at about 160%. However, although it 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 a continuing economic recession, high unemployment rates, and poor telecoms investment in a market largely dominated by the incumbent Claro (formerly the 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. 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, with six network operators, the mobile (cellular/wireless) market has been experiencing more robust competition and growth. Broadcasting in Puerto Rico is regulated by the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC).
Many Puerto Ricans have historically sought jobs on the US mainland, hampering local growth. Unemployment reached 16% in 2011, but declined to 11.5% in December 2017. US minimum wage laws apply in Puerto Rico, hampering job expansion. Per capita income is about two-thirds that of the US mainland.
The industrial sector greatly exceeds agriculture as the locus of economic activity and income. Tourism has traditionally been an important source of income with estimated arrivals of more than 3.6 million tourists in 2008. Puerto Rico’s merchandise trade surplus is exceptionally strong, with exports nearly 50% greater than imports, and its current account surplus about 10% of GDP.
Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico square on in September 2017, causing electrical power outages to 90% of the territory, as well as extensive loss of housing and infrastructure and contamination of potable water. Despite massive efforts, a significant part of the territory remained without electricity as of the end of 2017.
Claro Puerto Rico is the largest telecommunications services company in Puerto Rico. It is headquartered in Guaynabo, Puerto Rico, and has operated for almost a century offering voice, data, long distance, broadband, directory publishing and wireless services for the island residents and businesses. The company was a public corporation of the government of Puerto Rico for many years until the majority stakes were acquired by GTE in the mid-1990s. It was a subsidiary of Verizon Communications until it was fully acquired by América Móvil in 2007.