FCC’s Pai launches $9bn rural 5G fund

FCC’s Pai scraps Mobility Fund Phase II and launches $9bn 5G fund

06 December 2019 | Natalie Bannerman

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Ajit Pai (pictured), chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), has announced plans to establish the 5G Fund, a $9 billion Universal Service Fund available to carriers to deploy 5G mobile wireless services in rural America. 

This newly proposed investment will be allocated through a reverse auction and would target hard-to-serve areas with sparse populations and rugged terrain. In addition, the fund also will also reserve a minimum of $1 billion specifically for deployments facilitating precision agriculture needs.  

“5G has the potential to bring many benefits to American consumers and businesses, including wireless networks that are more responsive, more secure, and up to 100 times faster than today’s 4G LTE networks,” said Pai. “We want to make sure that rural Americans enjoy these benefits, just as residents of large urban areas will.  In order to do that, the Universal Service Fund must be forward-looking and support the networks of tomorrow. Moreover, America’s farms and ranches have unique wireless connectivity needs, as I’ve seen across the country.  That’s why I will move forward as quickly as possible to establish a 5G Fund that would bring next-generation 5G services to rural areas and would reserve some of that funding for 5G networks that promote precision agriculture. We must ensure that 5G narrows rather than widens the digital divide and that rural Americans receive the benefits that come from wireless innovation.”

The 5G Fund is intended to replace the previously announced Mobility Fund Phase II, which would have provided federal support for 4G LTE service in unserved areas.  Since the inception of the Mobility Fund, providers have been required to submit 4G LTE coverage data in order to help the FCC target federal subsidies to unserved parts of the country. However, it found that the 4G LTE coverage data submitted is not reliable enough in order to move forward with Mobility Fund Phase II.  Specifically, the Commission found that the MF-II coverage maps were overstated and did not reflect actual user experience.

As a result, FCC staff produced a report with the recommendation that the Commission, end the challenge process, audit the coverage filings of carriers in other proceedings and take additional steps to make sure that coverage data the Commission and the public rely on is accurate. 

“I thank the FCC’s dedicated staff for their diligence in conducting the investigation that led to this report,” added Pai. “ This investigation highlights the importance of drive testing to verify mobile coverage claims.  Staff drove nearly 10,000 miles in the course of conducting speed tests of carrier networks, an unprecedented effort that provided vital information about the extent of actual coverage on the ground.  Mobile carriers must submit accurate broadband coverage data to the Commission.  Simply put, we need to make sure that federal funding goes to areas that need it the most.”