Oct 04 2018
Miss. Senator Agrees FCC Broadband Plan May ‘Crack Open a Digital Divide’ Between Rural and Urban Areas
WASHINGTON - U.S. Senator Roger Wicker, R-Miss., today expressed “apprehensions” with the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) Mobility Fund Phase II (MF-II) wireless coverage map challenge process, which the Senator fears will contribute to widening the digital divide between rural and urban areas.
Wicker asked Grant Spellmeyer, the current Vice President of Federal Affairs and Public Policy for U.S. Cellular Corporation, about his company’s efforts to challenge the FCC’s wireless coverage map, which purportedly represents areas with 4G LTE service coverage.
After millions of dollars spent and millions of different signal strength readings, Spellmeyer said that his company had only tested the accuracy of the FCC’s coverage map in 3 percent of the company’s service footprint.
“We will absolutely not be able to get to all the areas that we would like to get to,” Spellmeyer said. “I’ve got twenty [signal strength] drive test teams in the field in a dozen states right now and we’re going as fast we can, but we’re going to run out of time.”
Spellmeyer said he believes it is important to get the map correct, because it will govern the next 10 years of FCC policy regarding rural broadband support.
“It is going to be 2030 before we can go back and bring some of these places up to five megabits per second at a time when, by then, 5G will be running around urban areas at a gigabit a second,” Spellmeyer said. “It’s going to crack open a digital divide that’s far worse than what we have seen previously.”
5G communications technology is expected to unlock a range of planned technological advances, including enhanced precision agriculture, better telehealth services, and fully autonomous vehicles, and will likely mean hundreds of billions of dollars in additional economic development in the United States.
Wicker has been a vocal proponent for refining the FCC’s Mobility Fund Challenge Phase II challenge process to make it easier for smaller providers and community stakeholders to provide evidence of areas that do not have coverage in their states. In May, Wicker introduced legislation that would have required the FCC to extend the challenge process by 90 days. He also led a bipartisan group of 30 senators to call upon the FCC to extend the challenge process and make other changes to the Mobility Fund program. To date, the FCC has agreed to extend the challenge process, which is now set to conclude on November 26, 2018.