Tester: ‘Folks in rural Montana waited years’ for Wireless Investments that Never Came

Senator to Federal Communications Commission: “Rural America deserves better, and the divide is growing”

“Folks in rural Montana waited years” for promised investments in rural wireless infrastructure that never came, U.S. Senator Jon Tester pressed the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) this week. Tester’s statement comes after Chairman Ajit Pai’s announcement that the agency is shuttering a program promised to rural America and replacing it with a $9 billion investment into building 5G infrastructure—a tall order for areas in Montana that have yet to get any cell coverage at all.

During this week’s Senate Commerce Committee hearing, Tester called attention to the FCC’s history of breaking promises to rural America by not getting work done on the ground, specifically pointing to the failure of the $4.5 billion mobility fund to bring 4G to rural areas. Though he welcomed yesterday’s announcement of the $9 billion project, the agency’s recent history shows potential for funding to be perpetually delayed at great cost to rural carriers and consumers.

“Folks in rural Montana waited years and years for the mobility fund phase-two money to get out the door, and as you well know, it never happened,” said Tester. “…another year has gone by with zero progress for wireless infrastructure in rural America…and another year where Washington bureaucracy and gridlock in the Senate is shortchanging rural America. While I believe everybody supports Chairman Pai’s good intentions to spend $9 billion in rural America, I’ve got some serious concerns about their ability to execute, because I haven’t seen it happen.”

One reason the FCC failed to deliver mobility fund phase two funds is the lack of accurate coverage maps. As a solution, Tester pressed the Senate to take action on the Broadband DATA Act, which passed the Commerce Committee earlier this year, in order to improve broadband data maps and hold providers accountable for inaccurate mapping. The bill would create a singular Broadband Map from granular data collected by the FCC and third-parties that will be updated biannually and instructs the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration to consult this map before distributing funding. It also develops an online system where incorrect data can be challenged and regularly updated, and requires regular audits of provider-submitted data using crowdsourcing for verification.

The Broadband DATA Act also forces the FCC to issue new rules for collecting deployment data from broadband providers and makes it easier for individuals and other entities to challenge coverage maps in a way that is non-burdensome. The FCC will be ordered to submit a report to Congress on their efforts to enforce new rules on providers that knowingly and intentionally misreport data.

As a working farmer in an area that doesn’t have cell service, Tester has long pushed the FCC to improve broadband access to rural America. Earlier this year, he pushed the FCC to take concrete steps to improve the accuracy of broadband maps and grilled Chairman Ajit Pai on the agency’s inaction to expand broadband in rural areas.