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Senators Urge Pai to Spur Mobility Fund

Senators Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), joined by a bipartisan host of others, have asked new FCC chairman Ajit Pai to prioritize mobile broadband in rural and underserved areas.

Pai, who was named chairman Jan. 20, has said closing the digital divide and getting broadband to rural America will be a priority of his chairmanship, and demonstrated that by holding his first outside meetings with digital divide stakeholders and allowing New York State to direct some government rural broadband subsidy money according to its own framework.

In a letter to the chairman, the senators called on the FCC to "move forward" with Phase II of the Universal Service Fund's Mobility Fund. The FCC has been migrating its subsidies for essential communications from phone to broadband, including mobile broadband.

"We need to continue moving the needle on broadband deployment in hard-to-reach areas, such as rural Mississippi,” said Wicker, chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, Innovation and the Internet. “Providing this access promotes business innovation and job creation. This is especially important for small businesses, which support tens of thousands of Mississippi families," said Wicker in a statement.

The new chairman already has a plan for that Mobility Fund. He explained it in an online op ed Thursday (Feb. 2).

"Right now, the federal government spends about $25 million of taxpayer money each month to subsidize wireless carriers in areas where private capital has been spent building out networks. This is perhaps a textbook definition of waste: public funds being spent to do what the private sector has already done," he wrote.

"Three weeks from now [at the February 23 meeting], we will vote on redirecting that spending to something far more useful: bringing 4G LTE service to rural Americans who don’t have it today. I am proposing to couple our detailed coverage data with a robust challenge process to identify the areas most in need of service. And I propose using a competitive “reverse auction” to allocate this support to preserve and extend 4G LTE coverage throughout our nation."

John Eggerton
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.