The FCC is seeking comment on its plan to establish 5G Fund for Rural America, which would distribute up to $9 billion through the Universal Service Fund across rural America for 5G wireless broadband connectivity.
The 5G Fund intends help ensure that rural Americans enjoy the same benefits from the digital economy as their urban dwellers, with a focus on deployments that support precision agriculture.
NATE: The Communications Infrastructure Contractor Association, applauded the development of a rural 5G fund.
“Looking ahead, the establishment of the 5G Fund will be great news for NATE member contractor companies and their skilled technicians who will be playing a major role working alongside the wireless carriers to close the digital divide by deploying the communications tower infrastructure, equipment and technology essential to enable high-speed, next-generation mobile service to rural and underserved areas of the United States,” said NATE Director of Legislative and Regulatory Affairs Jim Goldwater.
In addition to 5G networks already coming online in urban and suburban areas, the FCC conditioned approval of the T-Mobile/Sprint transaction on T-Mobile’s commitment to deploy its 5G network to 90 percent of rural Americans. The 5G Fund for Rural America would make available up to $8 billion in Phase I to support deployment of 5G networks in rural areas that are unlikely to see timely deployment without this support or as part of the T-Mobile transaction deployment commitments. The second phase would target at least $1 billion in support to bring wireless connectivity to harder to serve and higher cost areas, including farms and ranches, to help facilitate adoption of connected precision agriculture technologies.
The 5G Fund for Rural America would use a competitive reverse auction format to award funding for wireless broadband services, building on the success of the FCC’s recent Connect America Fund Phase II auction and the design for the upcoming Rural Digital Opportunity Fund Phase I auction.
The Notice seeks comment on two different approaches to identifying eligible areas for the Phase I reverse auction: One approach would hold an auction in 2021 by defining eligible areas based on current data sources that identify areas as particularly rural and thus in the greatest need of universal service support and prioritize funding to areas that have historically lacked 4G LTE or even 3G service. An alternative option would delay the 5G Fund Phase I auction until at least 2023, after collecting and processing improved mobile broadband coverage data through the Commission’s new Digital Opportunity Data Collection.
The Competitive Carriers Association expressed it disappointment with the FCC’s approach to collecting data on which rural areas are in need of mobile broadband coverage.
“Rather than limiting ourselves to two false options, the FCC should focus on updating their data collection in line with the parameters contained in the Broadband DATA Act, as directed by Congress, said Steven Berry, president & CEO of CCA. “Every member of Congress knows the areas of their district that do and do not have sufficient service, and this important legislation was enacted to help address this real dilemma. It is very concerning that the FCC’s decision does not present the best path forward to deploying next-generation technologies as quickly as possible.”
FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel agreed that that 5G Fund presents a false choice, either providing funds for more wireless service fast or accurately.
“Under what my colleagues call Option A, the FCC would commit $8 billion over the next ten years without any new maps. This would lock up the bulk of our universal service funds for improving wireless service for a decade, without an honest accounting of where service is and is not. This is a mistake,” Rosenworcel wrote in a separate opinion. “Under Option B, the FCC says it will roll up its sleeves and do the work to make improvements to our maps and then distribute funds accordingly. But it says it can’t possibly do this for at least three years. This too is a mistake. In fact, the entire framing here is wrong. We can two things at once. We can work fast and base our efforts on facts.”