The FCC plans to create a new “5G Fund” offering up to $9 billion over ten years to support the deployment of wireless broadband and voice services in rural and other hard-to-serve areas. Under a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (“NPRM”) adopted at the FCC’s April meeting, the 5G Fund would operate as the wireless counterpart to the wireline-focused Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (“RDOF”) approved earlier this year and replace Phase II of the Mobility Fund, which the FCC mothballed in 2018 after questions arose about reported coverage data. The NPRM proposes awarding funding through auction in two phases. Phase I would provide up to $8 billion in support, with $680 million reserved for deployments on Tribal lands. Phase II would provide up to $1 billion (plus any funding remaining after Phase I) for deployments for precision agriculture and particularly hard-to-serve areas like farms and ranches. The 5G Fund would exclude areas covered by the recently-approved T-Mobile/Sprint merger, which included a commitment to serve 90% of rural Americans within six years. The NPRM is just the first step towards launching the 5G Fund and presents an opportunity for all stakeholders to provide their input on the fundamental policies and procedures the will govern the new program.

Continue Reading FCC Proposes 5G Fund for Rural Wireless Networks, But Timing Remains Uncertain

At its last open meeting in 2017, the five FCC Commissioners unanimously voted to adopt a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) and Order regarding the Commission’s Rural Health Care (RHC) Program, a 20-year old initiative aimed at improving rural health care provider access to first telecommunications services and later an array of communications services, including Internet access, dark fiber, and business data services.  This item is part of FCC Chairman Ajit Pai’s overall initiative to close the “digital divide,” and proposes to increase the $400 million spending cap for the first time since 1997.  The NPRM also proposes to change how the FCC handles demand beyond the cap, from general proration to prioritization based on rurality or remoteness.  As such, all interested stakeholders should carefully monitor and consider participating in the rulemaking process.  Comments will be due 30 days after publication of the item in the Federal Register (which usually takes a few weeks) and reply comments will be due 60 days after publication.

Continue Reading FCC Votes on Possible Changes to the Rural Health Care Program

iStock_000006131068MediumOn February 23, 2017, during the second open meeting under Chairman Ajit Pai, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC or the Commission) unanimously approved an order launching the long-awaited second phase of the Mobility Fund.  The Mobility Fund offers financial support to service providers to preserve and extend mobile broadband and voice services in unserved and underserved areas.  The FCC’s order will provide up to $4.53 billion over the next decade to expand 4G LTE coverage to areas currently lacking that level of service, with $340 million reserved for Tribal areas.  This order is one component of Chairman Pai’s focus on bridging the digital divide.  The full text of the FCC’s order and further notice of proposed rulemaking has not been released.
Continue Reading Commission Adopts Long-Awaited Mobility Fund Phase II