On Wednesday, December 4, 2019, Chairman Pai released a statement announcing a plan to establish the 5G Fund, which would make up to $9 billion in Universal Service Fund (“USF”) support available to carriers to deploy advanced 5G mobile wireless services in rural America. These funds would be allocated through a reverse auction, targeting hard-to serve areas with sparse populations and/or rugged terrain, and would set aside at least $1 billion specifically for precision agriculture deployment needs.

The 5G Fund would replace the planned Mobility Fund Phase II (“MF-II”), which would have provided federal support for 4G LTE service in unserved areas. Under the MF-II rules, wireless providers were required to submit 4G LTE coverage data to help the Commission target federal subsidies to unserved parts of the country, and the rules provided a challenge process to dispute coverage maps with speed test submissions. However, Commission staff released a December 4, 2019 Staff Report (“Report”) detailing the MF-II Coverage Maps Investigation findings, which concludes that, over a year-long investigation, the 4G LTE coverage data submitted by providers is not sufficiently reliable to move forward with MF-II.

Specifically, the Report concludes that MF-II coverage maps submitted by certain carriers (namely Verizon, U.S. Cellular, and T-Mobile) likely overstated each provider’s actual coverage and did not reflect on-the-ground experience or actual coverage, based on the Commission’s own speed tests to measure network performance. Accordingly, the Rural Broadband Auctions Task Force makes the following recommendations, as outlined in greater detail in the Report:

  • The Commission should terminate the MF-II Challenge Process, finding that the coverage maps submitted by several providers are not a sufficiently reliable or accurate basis to move forward with the challenge process as intended.
  • The Commission should release an Enforcement Advisory on broadband deployment data submissions, including a detailing of the penalties associated with filings that violate federal law by overstating mobile broadband coverage, both for the continuing Form 477 and the new Digital Opportunity Data Collection.
  • The Commission should analyze and verify the technical mapping data submitted in the most recent Form 477 filings of Verizon, U.S. Cellular, and T-Mobile to determine whether they meet the Form 477 requirements, and assemble a team to audit the mobile broadband coverage maps submitted. The Report also recommends the Commission consider seeking appropriations from Congress to carry out drive testing, as appropriate.
  • The Commission should adopt policies, procedures, and standards in the Digital Opportunity Data Collection rulemaking and elsewhere that allow for submission, verification, and publication of mobile broadband coverage data. The Report recommends requiring certain technical specifications, data collection and propagation model parameters, and engineering certifications to best assess coverage data, and recommends that the Commission convene a best practices workshop for methodologies and submissions moving forward.

The Commission’s data files, with approximately 25,000 speed tests taken by FCC staff and approximately 20 million speed tests taken by challengers, are available for download here: https://www.fcc.gov/mobility-fund-phase-2#data

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