Commissioner Reactions to 5G Fund for Rural America

The Federal Communications Commission adopted a notice of proposed rulemaking seeking comment on the 5G Fund for Rural America. The auction process would be two-phase – and where the controversy comes in relates to which areas would be included in the first phase and when that auction would occur.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai: "I realize that some have questioned whether this is a wise use of the Universal Service Fund at all. Why, they ask, should we spend money to deploy 5G to rural America when some parts of our country still lack 3G or 4G? We shouldn’t spend our universal service funds to deliver networks using predecessor technologies because they’ll be outdated by the time they’re operational." The NPRM tees up two different approaches for comment. "We will have to decide whether enhanced precision justifies a significant delay, as much as two additional years, and I look forward to having that conversation with my fellow Commissioners and other stakeholders."

Commissioner Michael O'Rielly: "I have some questions as to our legal authority to move forward with Option A, if we were to do so, and establish a new funding mechanism before we fulfill our obligations to produce mobile coverage maps pursuant to the Broadband DATA Act. While there is possibly an argument that Option A complies with the strict letter of the statute, I wonder if proceeding in such a manner would be contrary to the spirit of the law." 

Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel: "This 5G Fund rulemaking presents a false choice. It suggests we can either provide funds for more wireless service fast or we can do it accurately. That’s crazy. We need to do both. If we’re going to spend billions in public funds on improving wireless service in rural America it’s not too much to ask that we do it with speed and get it right. We need maps before money and data before deployment because that is just what Congress told us to do in the Broadband DATA Act, which was signed into law last month."

Commissioner Geoffrey Starks: "The Broadband DATA Act requires the Commission to adopt final new mapping rules by September 2020 at the latest. The premise of Option A is that we cannot expect new maps to be complete even a year after that. If that is true, it is because the Commission has not prioritized this work. Chairman Pai announced the creation of the 5G Fund on December 4, 2019, nearly five months ago. Option A should not even be up for consideration."

Reactions to 5G Fund for Rural America FCC Proposes $9 Billion 5G Fund Proposal (Multichannel News) FCC Seeks Comment on $9B 5G Fund for Rural America – and It’s Already Getting an Earful (telecompetitor) O'Rielly Has Issues with Funding 5G Before Better Data (Multichannel News) Pai Statement O'Rielly Statement Carr Statement Rosenworcel Statement Starks Statement