The FCC recently took a major step in promoting deployment of 5G networks in rural and hard-to-serve areas by adopting a Report and Order establishing the 5G Fund for Rural America (5G Fund) support program. The program, which is effectively the wireless counterpart to the wireline-focused Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF), will offer up to $9 billion over ten years to support the deployment of mobile voice and 5G broadband in these areas. It replaces Phase II of the Mobility Fund, which the FCC mothballed in 2018 after questions arose about the accuracy of wireless coverage data reported by carriers, which was meant to determine which areas are eligible for funding. Half of the 5G Fund budget also comes from repurposing the $4.53 billion that the Commission had originally allotted for 4G LTE deployments under Mobility Fund Phase II. The 5G Fund auction may not occur until 2023 because the Commission opted to wait until it can collect new data on existing deployments to identify areas eligible for support. In the meantime, recipients of legacy mobile high-cost support will be required to start using those funds for 5G networks beginning in 2021.

Continue Reading FCC Creates Framework to Fund 5G Deployments in Rural Areas

At its July 16, 2020 meeting, the FCC adopted a Report and Order and Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (“R&O and FNPRM”) to facilitate development of new broadband deployment maps and data sets. According to the R&O and FNPRM, the item furthers the Commission’s ongoing Digital Opportunity Data Collection (“DODC”) efforts and the requirements established in the Broadband Deployment Accuracy and Technological Availability Act (“Broadband DATA Act”) passed in March 2020.

As detailed in the R&O and FNPRM, the Commission will require fixed and mobile broadband providers to report more precise broadband availability and service information than required under the current FCC Form 477 filings. Separately, the Commission will create a nationwide database containing geocoded locations for all areas where broadband connections can be installed—the Broadband Serviceable Location Fabric (“Fabric”). The Commission will use the Fabric to create publicly-available maps showing areas across the country that are served and unserved by broadband service. Among the expected benefits, the new broadband deployment data collection and mapping framework will allow the Commission to better target Universal Service Fund support, which has been a hot-button issue since the agency mothballed Phase II of the Mobility Fund in 2018 after the accuracy of mobile wireless coverage maps was called into question.


Continue Reading FCC Maps Out Requirements for Broadband Deployment Data Collection Framework

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

As the flurry of coronavirus-related actions continues, the FCC plans to return to “bread and butter” policy areas of spectrum and rural 5G deployment at its next meeting scheduled for April 23, 2020. First, the FCC plans to move forward on its proposal to open up 6 GHz band spectrum (5.925-7.125 GHz) for unlicensed use by smartphones, IoT devices, and other technologies. The FCC would allow standard-power unlicensed operations in certain band segments, subject to controls designed to avoid interference with incumbent microwave, cable, and satellite operators. The FCC also would permit lower-power unlicensed operations across the entire band, but only for indoor uses. Second, the FCC would consider a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to seek public input on a “5G Fund” offering up to $9 billion over ten years through an auction to support deployment of wireless broadband and voice services in rural and other hard-to-serve areas. The 5G Fund would represent the wireless counterpart to the wireline-focused Rural Digital Opportunity Fund adopted earlier this year and replace Phase II of the Mobility Fund, which the FCC mothballed after questions arose about reported coverage data. Finally, the FCC would update its orbital debris mitigation requirements to mandate additional disclosures and incorporate new inter-agency standards.

Running the gamut from rural networks to outer space, the FCC’s April agenda will impact service providers across the industry. Consequently, stakeholders should closely examine the deployment and funding opportunities presented in the FCC’s proposals. You will find more information on the key April meeting items after the break:


Continue Reading FCC Plans to Open Up 6 GHz Band for Unlicensed Use, Propose $9 Billion Rural Mobility Fund, and Address Orbital Debris at April Meeting

The Federal Communications Commission (“FCC”) took a major step forward on closing the “digital divide” in mobile broadband at its February meeting by unanimously adopting an Order resolving the remaining challenges to the Mobility Fund Phase II (“MF-II”) auction.  The order eases the letter of credit requirements and clarifies the collocation obligations for funding recipients, but generally preserves the MF-II auction budget, disbursement, and performance rules announced last year.  After clearing away these challenges, the FCC will focus on identifying the areas eligible for funding and conducting the auction later this year.

Continue Reading FCC Sets Stage for $4.5 Billion Auction by Resolving Mobility Fund Phase II Challenges

At its August 2017 Open Meeting, the Federal Communications Commission (“FCC”) unanimously adopted an Order on Reconsideration and Second Report and Order (“Order”) outlining a process to challenge the FCC’s determinations of which areas will receive financial support in the upcoming second phase of the Mobility Fund.  The Mobility Fund provides financial support to wireless service providers to maintain and extend mobile broadband and voice services in rural and other underserved areas.  As we previously reported, the FCC plans to give out over $4.5 billion in Mobility Fund Phase II financial support over the next ten years to expand 4G LTE coverage across the country.  The Order generally mirrors the discussion draft released last month, except that parties now have more time to submit challenges.  While the FCC plans to provide additional details about the challenge process over the next year, carriers interested in participating in the Mobility Fund Phase II should review the Order carefully and consider their challenge strategies.

Continue Reading August 2017 FCC Meeting Recap: FCC Adopts Challenge Process for Billions in Mobility Fund Phase II Support

As part of its continued focus on accelerating broadband deployment, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) eased restrictions on its universal service support for deployments by rate-of-return carriers in rural and other high-cost areas.  In a unanimous Order on Reconsideration issued at its April meeting, the FCC found that the restrictions drove providers to exclude high-cost areas from planned deployments, “stranding” communities without broadband.  Rate-of-return carriers will be able to receive support for broadband deployments up to certain thresholds, so long as they cover any additional expenses themselves.  Rate-of-return carriers should factor in this potential support when assessing broadband deployment plans or expanding existing buildouts.  As for providing support in areas served by price cap incumbent carriers, the FCC faces challenges to its recent order on instituting the Connect America Fund (CAF) Phase II auction, under which it will provide support to deploy broadband in unserved areas where the price cap carriers did not elect receive support.  Comments on the CAF challenges are due on May 18, 2017, with replies due on May 29, 2017.

Continue Reading FCC Eases Restrictions on Broadband Deployment Support for Rate-of-Return Carriers; Faces Challenges to Connect America Fund Phase II Auction

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