Tester Urges FCC to Prove Commitment to Rural Broadband in Wake of 5G Announcement

U.S. Senator Jon Tester and a bipartisan group of his colleagues sent a letter to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai urging the FCC to focus their efforts on providing reliable broadband to rural communities.

During a Senate Commerce Committee hearing last month, 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. Chairman Pai recently the announced that the agency is shutting down a program promised to rural America and replacing it with the 5G Fund, which would make up to $9 billion in Universal Service Fund support available to carriers to deploy advanced 5G mobile wireless services in rural America.

“We have some serious reservations about the recently announced 5G Fund and the decision to focus these limited mobile broadband deployment dollars on the promise of a 5G future when many places in our states still lack 4G service or do not have any service at all,” wrote Tester and his colleagues. “To stand any chance of connecting rural Americans, the FCC needs a more accurate method of data collection, a strong challenge process, and a funding process that includes terrain factors to ensure that the hardest to serve places can compete for limited funding.”

One reason the FCC failed to deliver mobility fund phase two funds is the lack of accurate coverage maps. As a solution, Tester helped push the Broadband DATA Act through the Senate last month 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. The legislation is expected to pass the House of Representatives early this year.

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

A copy of the letter can be found HERE.