US regulator the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) settled on rules to create the 5G Fund for Rural America, a $9 billion pot it argued was essential to help close the nation’s digital divide.
Unveiled in December 2019, the fund is a ten-year programme designed to ensure 5G reaches remote regions of the country. The FCC opted for a reverse-auction process, one of two options considered in a consultation commenced in April, to allow time for more accurate coverage data to be made available and so offer clarity on eligibility.
It will conduct two phases of auctions, with the first placing up to $8 billion into supporting regions without unsubsidised 4G or 5G mobile broadband, with $680 million of the sum going to bidders serving Tribal lands.
The second phase will target at least $1 billion, in addition to any unused funds from the initial stage, for the rollout of 5G networks for precision agriculture.
In a statement, the FCC explained the 5G pot would “target support from the Commission’s Universal Service Fund”, with eligibility set by its “Digital Opportunity Data Collection proceeding”, a process designed to deliver “granular, precise mobile broadband coverage data”.
It explained this would help it allocate funds to areas requiring the greatest aid, while “ensuring support is spent as efficiently as possible”.
The plan will account for a commitment by T-Mobile US to cover 90 per cent of rural areas in the US within six years following its merger with Sprint, to “avoid spending limited federal resources on wasteful overbuilding”.
As part of the auctions, the Commission will include an “adjustment factor” ensuring areas with rugged terrain or sparse populations can compete.
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