A group of 18 carrier CEOs – including the heads of small carriers Bluegrass Cellular, Appalachian Wireless, Cellular One, and Pioneer Cellular – sent a letter to the FCC this week urging Chairman Ajit Pai to revisit his plans for the Mobility Fund’s Phase II allocations.
According to the letter, the CEOs are concerned about the Commission’s use of what they called “flawed” Form 477 data as a mechanism to create an eligible areas list for Universal Service Funding (USF) support. The CEOs in the letter also expressed alarm at the Commission’s proposed intent to “immediately slash legacy support in many areas that desperately need it.” A “flash cut,” they said, would throw off kilter deployment plans that have been laid far in advance, in some cases with an eye to 2021.
That being the case, the CEOs insisted the Mobility Fund II money hone in on geographic areas without LTE while at the same time providing “sufficient transitional certainty in legacy high-cost areas for at least three years.”
“As competitive wireless carrier companies, we can attest that reasonable, tailored reforms must be enacted to ensure Universal Service Funding helps to both preserve and expand consumer-demanded wireless services in rural America. However, we understand the proposed Mobility Fund II Report and Order may threaten to stymie, rather than promote, digital inclusion in rural and remote areas by creating uncertainty and undermining business efforts,” the letter reads. “The Commission’s current plan will not only fail to achieve the goal of expanding broadband, it will, in fact, widen the digital divide.”
The letter comes ahead of the FCC’s February 23 open meeting, where reforms to USF are on the table in the form of a Report and Order that would adopt rules for ongoing support for mobile broadband via the Mobility and Connect America funds. Earlier this month, Pai explained that order would redirect Mobility Fund money – which he said amounted to some $25 million the government spends “to subsidize wireless carriers in areas where private capital has been spent building out networks” – to better support 4G LTE service buildouts in rural America.
“I am proposing to couple our detailed coverage data with a robust challenge process to identify the areas most in need of service,” Pai said in a blog post. “And I propose using a competitive ‘reverse auction’ to allocate this support to preserve and extend 4G LTE coverage throughout our nation.”
The CEO letter urging Pai to reconsider garnered support from Competitive Carriers Association CEO Steven Berry.
“Rural areas are some of the most difficult to serve, and putting these funds ‘on the chopping block’ will directly impact carriers’ abilities to continue service and will harm consumers that live in or visit these areas,” commented. “As these CEOs noted, a flash-cut is fiscally irresponsible, especially given the amount of budgetary planning required to maintain and build out networks.”
Filed Under: Industry regulations