The FCC will consider establishing a fund that would award up to $9 billion for the deployment of 5G mobile broadband services in rural areas in the most remote regions in the next 10 years at this month’s open meeting.
Even though T-Mobile has committed to extend 5G coverage to 90 percent of rural Americans, the FCC said there will still be rural areas where no business case exists for next-generation networks. 5G Fund for Rural America would use competitive reverse auctions to disburse money to support the deployment of 5G throughout unserved areas, including the most remote, rugged, and sparsely populated parts of the country.
A reverse auction awards the provider willing to serve each area at required performance levels for the lowest amount of support.
The fund would budget up to $8 billion available in Phase I, including $680 million for Tribal land coverage, and at least $1 billion in Phase II to support networks that will facilitate precision agriculture.
The FCC will ask the industry to comment on whether it should hold the Phase I auction in 2021 using current data, which has been proven to be inadequate, or in the, perhaps, delay the Phase I auction until 2023 when a new mobile broadband database is available.
Rural Coverage Map Controversy
While the Competitive Carriers Association (CCA) supported the proposed fund, it expressed its concern that neither method for determining who is still left unserved would be good for rural 5G deployment.
CCA President & CEO Steven Berry said, “I am extremely discouraged by the two options the Commission has proposed. But these are plainly not the only options, nor the best options; there is no reason why the FCC cannot follow the law that Congress mandated and distribute needed funding in a timely manner, with accurate data. We should not be limiting ourselves to two inadequate options, but rather looking for real solutions to deploy mobile broadband as quickly as possible.”
Knowing who does and who does not have coverage in rural areas has become a controversy. In 2018, the FCC launched an investigation into whether one or more major carriers violated the Mobility Fund Phase II reverse auction’s mapping rules and submitted incorrect coverage maps. The investigation uncovered evidence that the carriers had misled the FCC on their 4G rural coverage.
Since then, Congress has passed legislation funding for more accurate rural wireless coverage maps, known as RAY BAUM’s Act, but many saw it as insufficient.