FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler on Tuesday promised to take action before the end of the year on two wish list items critical to smaller and rural carriers: roaming standards and the Universal Service Fund.
Addressing attendees of the Competitive Carriers Association’s 2016 conference, Wheeler said he is planning to ask the commission to adopt a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking before the end of the year to address the FCC’s data roaming framework.
Rural carriers have previously filed complaints with the FCC alleging commercial carriers are charging unreasonable roaming rates, he said, and as a result some smaller providers have placed usage and speed restrictions on roaming traffic. In its 2015 Net neutrality order, Wheeler said the FCC promised to revisit data roaming obligations and the time has finally come.
“CCA has been vocal in holding the Commission to its word and calling on us to apply uniform roaming standards across voice and data services,” Wheeler said. “We’ve heard you, and we’re ready to act.”
Wheeler said taking on the issue would help provide greater certainty in the marketplace, boost competition and yield benefits for consumers.
However, Wheeler acknowledged that competition isn’t always an option in rural areas, particularly where access to broadband services doesn’t exist at all. In fact, Wheeler said, an FCC analysis of mobile carriers’ Form 477 has found “significant LTE coverage gaps still exist throughout America,” including 11 percent of the nation’s road miles and 16 percent of all square miles in the country. Wheeler said 1.4 million Americans have no access to LTE coverage at all, while 1.7 million live in areas where the only LTE coverage available relies on USF subsidies.
“It’s no accident that I’ve been describing the unserved areas as those without access to 4G LTE,” Wheeler said. “4G is table stakes for wireless connectivity in 2016. As we’re gearing up for 5G, we can’t consign parts of the country to second-class digital citizenship by settling for 3G service.”
To help solve this issue, Wheeler said the Commission will move to progress with Phase II of the Mobility Fund by the end of 2016.
Key to the future of the Mobility Fund, Wheeler said, will be the identification of areas where 4G LTE coverage isn’t available, focusing resources with more data and phasing out support in a fair manner for carriers in duplicative situations.
“Every USF dollar used to support duplicative service is a dollar that is not available to bring service to the more than 550,000 miles of unserved roads where somebody might have an accident and need to contact 911. That just won’t do,” Wheeler said.
“Now is the time to update our data roaming rules to promote and preserve wireless competition in rural America,” he continued. “Now is the time to move forward with the next phase of the Mobility Fund to ensure that every American can access high-speed wireless connectivity. Now is the time to come together to build the mobile future.”
Read More: Rural Carriers in Fight for Their Lives as Roaming Income, USF Support Dry Up
Filed Under: Industry regulations