Today, the Federal Communications Commission announced the “Facilitate America's Superiority in 5G Technology (5G FAST) Plan” to ensure the United States wins the race to 5G wireless connectivity. The plan includes the nation’s largest spectrum auction in December 2019 and the promised future creation of a $20.4 billion rural broadband investment fund, “The Rural Digital Opportunity Fund,” to help close the digital divide.
According to the FCC, the fund will “provide funding through a reverse auction to broadband service providers that deploy infrastructure that provides up to gigabit-speed broadband” in rural America. Public Knowledge supports rural broadband investment and America’s 5G deployment, but cautions that only Congress can authorize the funding.
The following can be attributed to Harold Feld, Senior Vice President of Public Knowledge:
“Today’s announcement raises many questions. Most importantly, where will this money come from and over how many years? Is the Administration promising to provide new money for rural broadband through existing authority, or is the Administration going to need to ask Congress to provide new money? How will this differ from the Connect America Fund?
“The Obama Administration began a process of auctioning spectrum for 5G in 2016, and repurposed the existing Universal Service Fund for rural telephone service to create the “Connect America Fund” for rural broadband deployment. Because Chairman Pai eliminated all sources of FCC authority over broadband in the “Restoring Internet Freedom Order” in 2017, it is difficult to see how the Administration can do anything but modify the existing Obama-era programs.
“While updating these programs may prove helpful, they will not do much to change the unfortunate state of rural broadband in the short-term or do much to accelerate 5G deployment without real reform to directly address new deployment. For this reason, we urge Congress to press Chairman Pai for further details, and to work on new funding for rural broadband in accordance with the principles developed by the Broadband Connects America Coalition.
“Chairman Pai and the Trump Administration have an unfortunate history of promising big things for rural broadband with great fanfare, but have either failed to deliver, or simply taken credit for programs developed by the Obama Administration. Hopefully, this will not be the case again.”