Pai: We're Pulling Plug on Mobility Fund Phase II

FCC chair Ajit Pai says he plans to propose pulling the plug on the 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.

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

FCC: More CAF II Bidders Authorized for Rural Bucks

The FCC has been migrating its phone subsidy program to broadband, and is now going to migrate its Mobility Fund Phase II (MF-II) subsidy program to focus on the next generation of that wireless technology. That's because the FCC said the carrier data that was supposed to help the FCC target that Mobility Fund money could not be relied on.

That new 5G rural subsidy will be in the form of a reverse auction, which means bidders vying for money according to how inexpensively they could get the job done while meeting various service benchmarks.

The chairman said at least $1 billion of that fund would go toward precision agriculture, which has also been an avowed priority of President Trump.

The Phase II Mobility fund was to have gone to 4G LTE in unserved areas, but a report the FCC has just released found that data submitted by providers to help the FCC target those funds were not sufficiently reliable to proceed with that Mobility Fund Phase II.

"Specifically, FCC staff conducted thousands of speed tests to measure network performance and concluded that the MF-II coverage maps submitted by certain carriers [it named Verizon, U.S. Cellular, and T-Mobile] likely overstated each provider’s actual coverage and did not reflect on-the-ground experience in many instances," the FCC said.

The report recommended pulling the plug on the Phase II program and issue an enforcement advisory on submitting bad data.

“5G has the potential to bring many benefits to American consumers and businesses, including wireless networks that are more responsive, more secure, and up to 100 times faster than today’s 4G LTE networks,” said chairman Pai in a statement. “We want to make sure that rural Americans enjoy these benefits, just as residents of large urban areas will. In order to do that, the Universal Service Fund must be forward-looking and support the networks of tomorrow.

"Moreover, America’s farms and ranches have unique wireless connectivity needs, as I’ve seen across the country. That’s why I will move forward as quickly as possible to establish a 5G Fund that would bring next-generation 5G services to rural areas and would reserve some of that funding for 5G networks that promote precision agriculture. We must ensure that 5G narrows rather than widens the digital divide and that rural Americans receive the benefits that come from wireless innovation.” 

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.