A new Federal Communications Commission proposal would aim to distribute $9 billion to bring 5G connectivity to rural communities.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said Wednesday the agency is going to move ahead to establish a 5G Fund for rural America.

“5G promises to be the next leap in broadband technology, offering significantly increased speeds and reduced latency,” Pai said. “It’s critical that Americans living in rural communities have the same opportunities as everybody else.”

The fund would target specific rural areas that do not see timely deployment of 5G service and areas not likely covered by T-Mobile transaction commitments. T-Mobile recently committed to deploy 5G service to 99% of Americans within six years, including covering 90% of those living in rural America.

But the FCC said some rural areas won’t see the technological and economic benefits of 5G if there are insufficient financial incentives for mobile wireless carriers to invest in 5G-capable networks across rural America. The FCC is proposing to use Universal Service Fund support and award funding for 5G services through a reverse auction to help. 

The Commission is asking for public comment on two Phase I approaches for targeting 5G fund support for eligible areas. 

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The first Phase I option would be for the Commission to hold an auction in 2021 by defining eligible areas based on current data sources identifying areas that are particularly rural needing the most support along with prioritizing areas that have historically lacked 4G LTE or 3G service. 

The second Phase I option would delay the 5G Fund reverse auction until 2023 after collecting and processing improved mobile broadband coverage through the Digital Opportunity Data Collection. The DODC is a new process the FCC began in August 2019 to collect more granular data on where fixed broadband service is available.

Phase II of the 5G fund would bring wireless connectivity to harder served and higher cost areas like farms and ranches. It would also make at least $1 billion available for precision agriculture deployments.

The FCC plans to vote on the 5G fund proposed rule at their next meeting April 23.

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