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House E&C Leaders Have Issues with Pai 5G Fund Proposal

House Energy & Commerce Committee bipartisan leadership has concerns about FCC chairman Ajit Pai's plans to replace the FCC's Mobility Fund Phase II broadband subsidy program with a 5G fund. 

Pai said earlier this month he plans to propose pulling the plug on the $4.5 billion Mobility Fund Phase II program and instead create a 5G fund that would put up to $9 billion toward Universal Service Fund support for 5G mobile wireless in rural areas to help close the digital divide. 

He plans to circulate a notice of proposed rulemaking to that effect early next year, according to an FCC official speaking on background. 

The $9 billion will be given out over a decade and is about $450 million per year more than the Universal Service Fund (USF) Mobility Fund allocation. The extra money will also come from the USF. The official said there appeared to be enough to cover the increase and Pai has said the extra 4.5 billion would come from savings in the program. 

Energy and Commerce Committee chairman Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-N.J.), Ranking Member Greg Walden (R-Ore.), Communications Subcommittee chairman Mike Doyle (D-Pa.) and Subcommittee Ranking Member Bob Latta (R-Ohio) joined in a letter to Pai Thursday (Dec. 19), seeking answers to the following questions: 

  • "What safeguards will the Commission put in place to ensure that areas eligible for support are based on reliable coverage data? 
  • "How will the Commission determine which services are eligible for support?
  • "What performance benchmarks will you require to qualify for support?
  • "What steps will the Commission take to ensure that new services are sufficiently secure?"

“You have noted the need to focus funds to ‘support the networks of tomorrow,’ yet today’s services remain unavailable for too many Americans," they wrote. "This is unacceptable, and the design and execution of any new fund must be carefully constructed to succeed where MF II failed. While the new fund will replace MF II, the goals of MF II remain unmet. As you move forward, it is critical that areas that lack 4G LTE coverage—or any connectivity—are not left behind in a rush to advance well intended efforts to deploy 5G.” 

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.