Commission Adopts 5G Fund Rules, but Auction Start Date is Unknown
The FCC during yesterday’s monthly agenda meeting adopted the rules for a $9 billion “5G Fund,” (PDF) a universal service program to distribute support for high-speed mobile networks to cover rural America. The rules will be similar to rules set for the Rural Digital Opportunities Fund (RDOF) reverse auction, which starts tomorrow (Oct. 29). There will Phase I and Phase II reverse auctions with $8 billion available in Phase I.
However, no one knows when the 5G Fund auctions are likely to begin. Unlike the commencement of the RDOF auction, the Commission has decided that it will not set the date for the 5G Fund Phase I auction until it has reliable maps of where broadband service exists and where it does not in rural America. The Commission will use those maps to determine which potential bidders will be eligible to participate in the auctions.
But nobody knows when maps will be ready because Congress has so far failed to allocate funding to complete a mapping project.
“Although we won’t immediately conduct the 5G Phase I auction, it’s important we establish those rules today. They provide certainty for stakeholders and provide a clear path to the 5G fund Phase one,” Chairman Ajit Pai said during the meeting.
The Democratic members of the Commission partially dissented to the 5G Fund rules citing the mapping concerns.
“We are building this auction without grounding it in any real-world data … We can’t wait any longer. We need to find some way to make at least some progress,” said Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel. “We need to know what communities lack service and how much reaching them will truly cost. But instead, we are building the ship and setting sail while the compass is still on backorder.”