Committee Members Urge FCC to Distribute Funding Based on Accurate Data

5G Fund will support investment in next-generation mobile wireless services for rural areas

March 10, 2020

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, and John Thune, R-S.D., chairman of the subcommittee on Communications, Technology, Innovation, and the Internet, along with Roy Blunt, R-Mo., Jerry Moran, R-Kan., Ron Johnson, R-Wis., Deb Fischer, R-Neb., Todd Young, R-Ind., and Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., this week sent a letter to Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai urging the commission to distribute the $9 billion 5G Fund based on accurate data to ensure support is appropriately awarded based on reliable coverage maps.

Excerpt from the letter to Chairman Pai:

Given the importance of deploying 5G quickly, it is imperative that the Commission take this opportunity to distribute funding based on accurate data. Although the 5G Fund will support investment in next-generation mobile wireless services for rural areas, unless appropriately targeted the Fund risks deepening the digital divide, leaving those without unsubsidized wireless services today further behind in the years to come.

As you know, in 2018, a bipartisan group of Senators wrote to you with serious concerns about the reliability of the coverage maps that the FCC intended to use to determine eligible areas in the Mobility Fund Phase II (MF II). At the time, the maps that the Commission released appeared to misrepresent the existence of unsubsidized 4G LTE coverage and overstate the areas that were covered by existing mobile service. Given these challenges, we support your decision not to move forward with MF II using maps that could misallocate funding and welcome the move to the new 5G Fund.

Although this program appears to focus on forward looking technologies that preserve and expand service in areas that otherwise may not be economical to serve, our concerns remain with regards to reliable underlying coverage data that is used to determine funding eligibility. In your announcement of this new fund, you also addressed the continued need for more precise information about the true state of wireless coverage in rural America. Given these remaining challenges, we urge the Commission to focus on ensuring that accurate data is available—including updates to the collection of coverage data as outlined in our bipartisan, bicameral Broadband Deployment Accuracy and Technological Availability Act—so that support can be appropriately awarded based on reliable coverage maps. It is imperative that we get this right so that all Americans are able to realize the enormous promise of 5G networks.

The 5G Fund would replace the planned Mobility Fund Phase II (MF-II) reverse auction, which would have provided support for mobile broadband service in underserved areas. Senator Wicker has raised concerns about that program, noting that inaccurate broadband maps could have misallocated funding instead of targeting the rural areas most in need of broadband.  

Read the full letter to Chairman Pai here. The Commerce Committee exercises jurisdiction over the FCC.