FCC Finalizes Rural 5G Fund

FCC Building
(Image credit: Future Media)

The FCC has approved the final framework for giving out $9 billion in rural broadband deployment funds and it will not be handed out before the FCC collects better broadband deployment data.

The item was voted at the FCC's Oct. 27 meeting.

The FCC will use a two-phase, multi-round reverse auctions to hand out the money in two phases for the Rural 5G Fund. It will also use the improved maps on where broadband is and isn't based on its new Digital Opportunity Data Collection.

Related: FCC to Vote on Rural Broadband Funding Framework

Phase I will target up to $8 billion of support to areas "lacking unsubsidized 4G LTE or 5G mobile broadband, with $680 million specifically set aside for bidders offering to serve Tribal lands."

The broadband must be at least 35 mbps downstream/3 Mbps upstream, and there will be build-out benchmarks.

The FCC also said the money would not be used to overbuild the 90% of the country where T-Mobile has pledged to build out broadband to rural areas, a commitment that was part of the FCC's agreement to allow the merger with Sprint.

Phase II will hand out at least $1 billion--"at least" because it would include any unawarded phase I funds--targeting 5G for precision agriculture, which is an avowed priority of President Trump.

FCC commissioner Michael O'Rielly had signaled he would not vote for the framework unless the FCC used better data to identify where broadband already is or isn't. Given that the Democrats on the commission had pushed for better maps before money, that change to FCC chairman Ajit Pai's original proposal was clearly necessary if the item was going to be approved.

The FCC had voted back in April to approve a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on the proposal to give out up to $9 billion over a decade for 5G buildouts, which is about $450 million per year more than the Universal Service Fund (USF) Mobility Fund allocation, which it is replacing. The extra money will also come from USF. The FCC is targeting rural areas that will be less likely to get 5G absent that support. 

“A key predicate to bringing the transformative power of 5G to hard-to-reach rural communities is the extension of wired networks deeper into targeted rural areas where we must scale our communications infrastructure and lay lots of fiber," said USTelecom President Jonathan Spalter. "The approval of this major federal investment today will be critical to America’s collective 5G future and a down payment on the public/private partnerships that will transport superfast 5G traffic over our country’s wired communications networks.”

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.