'Irregulators' Protest Billions for Rural Wireless to Telecoms

As the FCC prepares to vote on a proposal to fund $9 billion in 5G network builds, a group calling itself the Irregulators wants the FCC to force telecoms to build out their promised terrestrial fiber networks first.  

The Irregulators, in concert with more than 100 local organizations under the umbrella of non-profit Americans for Responsible Technology, argue telecoms have raised prices and exacted fees for decades on the promise of fiber buildouts, but now want billions more to build the wireless networks that are more profitable and cheaper to build out, branding it "fibergate."

Related: FCC Rural Broadband Fund Draws Crowd 

The FCC plans to vote at its April 23 public meeting on the fund. 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, 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. 

"If the phone companies had finished building out the fiber-optic network they promised years ago, there would be no rural divide," said Irregulator Bruce Kushnick, a former telecommunications analyst. He said the telecoms are trying to capitalize on the pandemic to get billions from the government--rural broadband is a priority in a nation of a broadband-reliant shelter-in-place populace.

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.