WASHINGTON - U.S. Senator Roger Wicker, R-Miss., Chairman of the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, Innovation, and the Internet, today commended the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai for his support of a 90-day extension to the challenge process for the map of eligible areas for Mobility Fund Phase II support. The FCC’s presumptive eligibility map will help determine up to $4.53 billion in support for rural wireless broadband expansion over the next 10 years.
“I commend FCC Chairman Pai for his commitment to extending the Mobility Fund Phase II presumptive eligibility challenge process by 90 days,” Wicker said. “With so much at stake, it is important for us to get this map right so that the millions of rural Americans who currently lack broadband service will be first in line to receive support through the Mobility Fund program.”
The FCC Chairman’s announcement of support for the 90-day extension came in response to legislation and a letter led by Wicker, Senator Maggie Hassan, D-N.H., and Jerry Moran, R-Kan. The senators are concerned that there are significant flaws in the current map, which purportedly shows areas that are served by 4G LTE service.
Areas that are unserved by 4G LTE would be eligible for up to $4.53 billion in support for wireless broadband expansion. The map shows many areas of the senators’ states to be covered, when on-the-ground experience suggests otherwise.
The senators hoped the 90-day change would allow additional outreach to stakeholders, and give challengers time to assemble the necessary data to challenge the eligibility map in their area.
On Thursday, the FCC will be hosting a presentation regarding the Mobility Fund Challenge process. The meeting is scheduled for 11:00 a.m. at the Mississippi Agriculture and Forestry Museum in Jackson.
Read the full text of the FCC’s announcement below, or view a PDF copy here:
Dear Senator Wicker:
Thank you for your letter regarding the Commission's Mobility Fund Phase II. Many rural Americans have waited far too long to get access to the high-speed mobile broadband that is common in our nation's largest cities. Despite promises made in 2011, the Mobility Fund Phase II lay largely dormant until February 2017, when the Commission finally committed itself to get this fund up and running. With $4.53 billion in investment for rural America over the next ten years, the Mobility Fund Phase II is a critical means of ensuring every American has next-generation mobile connectivity. And to make sure that we're not duplicating private capital but instead targeting those areas without access, we standardized our mobile broadband data collection and launched a robust challenge process.
I am committed to ensuring that the challenge process will produce a high-quality map. To this end, we made sure state, local, and Tribal governments-not just carriers-were able to participate. We sent Commission staff to hold on-site training events in New Mexico, Kansas, West Virginia, Maine, New Hampshire, and Washington state, with another planned for tomorrow in Mississippi. We released a map of areas most susceptible to challenge, that is those where only one unsubsidized carrier reported offering service, so that challengers could better target their efforts. We also changed the parameters of speed testing for challengers, reducing the number of measurements required to successfully challenge an area. And we hope to release the list of qualifying handsets to the public in the next two weeks so that local governments can more easily enlist volunteers.
Nevertheless, I agree with you that the agency should be exercising its discretion to ensure that the challenge process is as robust as possible. Accordingly, I support extending the challenge process window by 90 days and have directed the Rural Broadband Auctions Task Force to figure out the procedural steps necessary to do just that. By lengthening the period during which challenges can be submitted, challengers will have an opportunity to conduct additional tests, which in turn means a more accurate map for carrying out the Mobility Fund Phase II auction.
Like you, the Commission is focused on ensuring that our limited universal service funds are effectively and accurately targeted to areas that lack unsubsidized 4G LTE service. This is a vital part of our strategy toward closing the wireless dimension of the digital divide. I appreciate your
interest in this matter. Please let me know if I can be of any further assistance.