FCC to Vote on Rural Broadband Funding Framework

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The FCC has come up with 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.

FCC chairman Ajit Pai said he has circulated that framework for a vote at the Oct. 27 meeting.

Related: FCC Launches 2021 Broadband Deployment Data Collection

The FCC will use 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.

"This approach won’t be the fastest possible path to the Phase I auction, but it will allow us to identify with greater precision those areas of the country where support is most needed and will be spent most efficiently," said Pai. 

FCC commissioner Michael O'Rielly had signaled he would not vote for the framework unless the FCC used that better data. Given that the Democrats on the commission had pushed for better maps first, the change appeared necessary if the item was going to pass.

The FCC 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 will target rural areas that will be less likely to get 5G absent that support.  

The "maps before money" mantra is more associated with Democrat Jessica Rosenworcel and the FCC's $16 billion Rural Digital Opportunities Fund, but O'Rielly told a Senate Commerce Committee panel back in June that, "[U]nlike the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) proceeding, which was already in motion prior to the passage of the Broadband DATA Act [Congress' mandate for better maps], the Rural 5G Fund mechanism appears to be within the ambit of a 'new award of funding' for which the FCC would need to use the statutorily-required maps," he said when he voted for the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking back in April. 

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.