The FCC Tuesday adopted rules creating a 5G fund to distribute up to $9 billion over the next decade to bring 5G wireless broadband connectivity to rural America. The 5G Fund will use multi-round reverse auctions in two phases to target support from the Commission’s Universal Service Fund to eligible areas based upon the improved mobile broadband coverage data gathered in the Commission’s Digital Opportunity Data Collection proceeding.
Phase I of the 5G Fund will target up to $8 billion of support nationwide to areas lacking unsubsidized 4G LTE or 5G mobile broadband, with $680 million specifically set aside for bidders offering to serve tribal lands.
The item passed 5-0. However the Democrats dissented on parts of the document; both FCC Commissioners Jessica Rosenworcel and Geoffrey Starks say the process is backwards. Starks in particular questioned whether the agency has its priorities straight, voting on auction rules before getting the maps right. Congress lost patience with the Commission’s progress on its maps that will be used to direct broadband funding, he said, and subsequently passed the Broadband Data Act to ensure the maps are fixed before the money is distributed.
Chairman Ajit Pai made it clear the Commission gets the message about fixing the coverage maps when he said: “The Phase 1 auction will take place after we develop precise maps. We will use those maps to help determine eligibility for the Phase 1 auction.” Then he paused and added: “That’s assuming that one day Congress will give us the necessary funding [to hold the auctions]. As I told the House of Representatives, they have not done so yet, despite well over a year of requests for it.”
Phase II will provide at least an additional $1 billion, along with any unawarded funds from Phase I, to specifically target the deployment of technologically innovative 5G networks that facilitate precision agriculture.
By Leslie Stimson, Inside Towers Washington Bureau Chief