AT&T to Sell its Operations in Puerto Rico – What does this mean for you?

According to a press release issued today, AT&T is selling its wired and wireless operations in Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands to Liberty Latin America. The transition will affect over one million customers on those islands.

DIRECTV isn’t going anywhere.

If you read through the press release, you’ll get this:

Under terms of the agreement, AT&T will retain FirstNet responsibilities and relationships as well as DIRECTV and certain global business customer relationships.

Quite simply, DIRECTV customers in Puerto Rico are not going to be affected by this change. DIRECTV’s Puerto Rico business has always been very closely tied to the rest of its US operation and this does not look to be changing. Also, likely due to contracts with the US government, AT&T will continue to operate the FirstNet first responder network.

As has recently been pointed out, AT&T continues to invest in technological advancements for the Puerto Rican market. It has recently offlined its satellite at the 110 location, known as DIRECTV 5 or T5 within the company, and is now providing service to Puerto Rico using the newest members of its satellite fleet.

What will happen if you want to use AT&T when you visit Puerto Rico or the USVI?

The press release doesn’t go into detail there. It may be that your AT&T phone would continue to work as it does now. Certainly that’s going to be the case for a while. It’s going to take time for all of these details to get ironed out so there’s no reason for you to jump into a change today.

Eventually the tech stuff will get all sorted out and Liberty will operate its cell network independently of AT&T. Even then, it’s possible that nothing would change. If it does though, it could be similar to visiting foreign countries in that regard. Your phone would work and you would have several options. The most expensive would be to pay international roaming charges. You would also have the opportunity to buy an “international plan” per day from AT&T. For most customers that’s the best value. If you have an unlocked phone you can also change SIM cards and use one that you buy when you are visiting. However this will change your phone number temporarily. While this is a common practice in Europe, I don’t see this as a good option for domestic visitors.

Should you be worried?

I wouldn’t be. This is a business decision by AT&T and business decisions happen all the time. If you are a frequent visitor to Puerto Rico or the US Virgin Islands, you should definitely wait and see. If the cost of using your AT&T equipment goes up, certainly it’s fair to consider other options. But, if you read between the lines here it’s very clear. AT&T plans on keeping a good relationship with Liberty Latin America. This means that there’s probably a plan for retaining current AT&T customers.

Overall, this move seems designed to help AT&T focus on its core business in the continental US. While it’s worth noting that both Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands are part of the United States, both present technological and cultural challenges that other parts of the US do not.

To me the best move today would be “wait and see…” and realize that for DIRECTV customers in both regions, nothing is going to change.