Closing Rural America's Digital Divide, FCC Invests $20 Billion in Rural Broadband

The Trump administration and The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) announced plans to invest $20.4 billion over the next 10 years to build out high-speed broadband networks in rural America last week.
Rural and Tribal areas continue to lag behind urban locations in mobile broadband deployment. There are approximately 14 million rural Americans and 1.2 million Americans living on Tribal lands that still lack mobile LTE broadband at speeds of 10 Mbps/3 Mbps, according to the FCC’s 2018 Broadband Deployment report.
Part of the path towards the provision of better rural broadband coverage has been led by organizations like the Competitive Carriers Association.
Tim Donovan, senior vice president of Legislative Affairs for the Competitive Carriers Association (CCA) testified before the  U. S. House of Representatives Committee on Small Business and subcommittees on Health and Technology and Agriculture, Energy, and Trade last week urging lawmakers to make policy decisions aimed at closing the digital divide on the availability of reliable mobile coverage data in rural and Tribal communities.
“Robust, reliable data is essential to ensuring critical mobile broadband services can reach all corners of the U.S., particularly rural areas. Members of Congress know first-hand that the representation of coverage in their respective states is overstated – and in some cases, substantially so,” said Donovan urging The FCC and agencies across the government to work together.
Donovan recommended that the much needed production of more reliable maps and detailed Radio Frequency Link Budget submissions should include signal strength standardization, increased cell edge probability, increased cell loading and additional clutter factors, adding that the process should be less burdensome for carriers.
In the past few months, the provision of mobile broadband service in rural areas has landed itself directly amid the stalled merger between T-Mobile & Sprint by The FCC.
T-Mobile made a filing with the Securities & Exchange Commission (SEC) earlier this year claiming that the combined companies will reach 96% of rural American residents by 2024 in efforts to boost the progress of its merger with Sprint.
T-Mobile announced plans to launch a $50 per month fixed wireless access (FWA) service pilot to select rural consumers, and promised to expand the service after its merger with Sprint is complete but the carrier’s intentions have come under scrutiny by those in opposition to the merger who say the plans ignore the economic realities of backhaul in rural areas.
C Spire and RWA which are both a part of the 4Competition Coalition that opposes the merger suggest that T-Mobile lacks sufficient backhaul capacity in rural areas to support T-Mobile’s current represented coverage and speeds as well as the carrier’s future plans for 5G.
“There is nothing about the proposed transaction that changes the challenging economics of doing a green field build in rural areas where the availability and cost of backhaul present severe limitations,” stated C Spire in a SEC filing last month..
While the issue has become a jockeying piece for gaining regulatory approval for T-Mobile and Sprints’ stalled merger, rural America continues to face the reality of an increasing technological digital divide.
Rural Americans desperately want better home internet options as many are dependent either on slow DSL, limited 4G, or unreliable satellite service.
And while the provision of broadband is vital to bridging the digital divide,  it’s not just about bringing access to cellular broadband to users- the issue is also about industry and economic prosperity in many rural communities.
5G is heralded by many, including Sprint and T-Mobile, as critical to new technologies like smart cities, automated cars, and the Internet of things (IoT). Low- latency and IoT networks are poised to play massive role agriculture and healthcare – two big rural industries.
The persistent and systemic lack of digital connectivity in rural areas has impeded the growth of businesses in America’s heartland preventing them from becoming a source of great economic prosperity and technological innovation.
With the FCC now proposing to invest $20.4 billion to build out high-speed broadband networks in rural America,- things may change slowly.
Recent new that the Sprint, T-Mobile merger may have some DOJ (Department of Justice) hangups may not help rural Americans get high speed connectivity anytime soon.

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