FCC chair proposes $9 billion rural 5G fund

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai announced plans to establish the 5G Fund, to comprise up to $9 billion in Universal Service Fund support available to carriers to deploy advanced 5G systems.

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FCC Chairman Ajit Pai announced plans to establish the 5G Fund, which would make up to $9 billion in Universal Service Fund support available to carriers to deploy advanced 5G mobile wireless services in rural America.

The investment would reportedly be allocated through a reverse auction and would target hard-to-serve areas with sparse populations and/or rugged terrain. The $9 billion fund also would set aside at least $1 billion specifically for deployments facilitating precision agriculture needs.

In a statement, Pai remarked: "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. 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."

Pai added, "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."

As reported by CI&M's sister brand, the Broadband Technology Report: "The 5G Fund would replace the planned Mobility Fund Phase II, which would have provided federal support for 4G LTE service in unserved areas. Pursuant to the Mobility Fund Phase II rules, wireless providers were required to submit 4G LTE coverage data in order to help the Commission target federal subsidies to unserved parts of the country.

"The Mobility Fund Phase II challenge process gave stakeholders an opportunity to dispute these coverage maps by submitting speed tests to the Commission. But in a report released [on Dec. 5], Commission staff said the 4G LTE coverage data submitted by providers is not sufficiently reliable for the purpose of moving forward with Mobility Fund Phase II.

"Specifically, FCC staff conducted thousands of speed tests to measure network performance and concluded that the MF-II coverage maps submitted by certain carriers likely overstated each provider's actual coverage and did not reflect on-the-ground experience in many instances.

"The staff report recommended that the Commission terminate the challenge process, audit the coverage filings of carriers in other proceedings before the Commission, 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," said 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."        

Source: Broadband Technology Report

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