While some stakeholders are waiting for more details to emerge about the FCC’s plan to get 5G to more rural areas through a designated $20 billion fund, CTIA took the opportunity on Friday to applaud the White House for committing to 5G—and not through some sort of government-run system.
President Donald Trump sang the praises of 5G during an event at the White House where an assortment of industries were represented, including farmers, construction workers and tower climbers, and FCC Chairman Ajit Pai presented his plans for keeping the U.S. ahead in the race to 5G.
Notably, in his remarks, President Trump made clear that a government-led 5G network is not part of his program. “Leading through the government, we don’t want to do that because it won’t be nearly as good, nearly as fast, and especially in that business I think that [they’ll] be better at doing the job than a lot of the folks that we know and love,” he said, adding that the administration is focused on freeing up spectrum and removing regulatory barriers.
CTIA President and CEO Meredith Attwell Baker said the statement by the president puts an end—once and for all—to “any misguided notions of nationalizing spectrum resources or government-mandated wholesale 5G markets. The White House’s continued commitment to the free-market principles that have made the U.S. the global leader in wireless recognizes this industry’s remarkable track record of investing in our nation’s connectivity infrastructure—$226 billion in the last nine years alone.”
Standing next to President Trump, Chairman Pai outlined how through the Facilitate America’s Superiority in 5G Technology (the 5G FAST Plan), the FCC is pushing more spectrum into the marketplace, modernizing regulations and promoting 5G infrastructure.
“In the race to 5G, our early success is still—early. We still need to do more. And we will,” Pai said before outlining his next two major initiatives. The first is a 5G spectrum auction that will begin on Dec. 10 and include the 37, 39 and 47 GHz bands—the largest spectrum auction in the nation’s history.
The second part of the plan gets a little more controversial. The FCC aims to create a new $20.4 billion Rural Digital Opportunity Fund to extend high-speed broadband to up to 4 million homes and small businesses in rural America. “These next-generation networks will bring greater economic opportunity to America’s Heartland and will help support future 5G technologies,” Pai said.
During an earlier conference call with reporters, Pai said the money will come from the repurposing of the Universal Service Fund. The specific details will be determined after the FCC goes through its usual notice and comment process, but there are core principles that Pai would like to see in it: that it’s funded on the basis of a reverse auction; that it targets unserved parts of the country; and that it serves high-quality broadband to rural areas.
When asked about the chairman's plans before the White House event, Commissioners Jessica Rosenworcel and Gregory Sparks, both Democrats, said they were not informed of the proposals beforehand and were eager to hear details. Their comments came during a routine press conference the commissioners held after their monthly open meeting Friday.
Rosenworcel emphasized, however, that covering rural areas will require midband spectrum, and the U.S. has zero midband spectrum queued up for auction.
Based on what was publicly known as of Friday afternoon, several other groups praised the government’s moves. David Williams, president of the Taxpayers Protection Alliance, who has described his organization as nonpartisan, applauded President Trump and Chairman Pai for rejecting the prospect of 5G nationalization.
“America has become the leader in internet deployment due to light-touch regulation that allows providers flexibility in helping close the digital divide, expanding access with minimal or no costs to federal, state, and local governments,” Williams said in a statement.
He added that the FCC has made plenty of progress over the past two years in nixing needless rules and keeping regulators out of the 5G deployment process. “The commission is far from perfect, and the announced ‘Rural Digital Opportunity Fund’ will have to be carefully monitored to make sure that the billions of taxpayer dollars actually go to underserved or unserved areas,” he said. “But President Trump and Chairman Pai’s announcement shows that the government will continue to pave the way for rapid 5G deployment by keeping bureaucrats at bay.”
Competitive Carriers Association (CCA) President and CEO Steven K. Berry thanked the administration for its focus on deploying 5G throughout the U.S., particularly for including rural areas in its plan, and said he looks forward to continued work with policymakers to make it happen.
“Auctioning additional spectrum and providing certainty regarding deployment policies will support industry efforts to bring the latest wireless services to urban and rural areas alike,” Berry said in a statement. “Revolutionary services and technologies depend on robust wireless connectivity, and it’s critically important to ensure Americans in all corners of the country have access to these services. The economic, education, health, social—and many other—benefits that come with connectivity are countless, and to make sure rural Americans have comparable services to urban areas, we must support both fixed and mobile networks.”
The Wi-Fi Alliance is also on board. "Wi-Fi Alliance applauds FCC efforts to expand 5G services through establishment of the Rural Opportunity Fund. Wi-Fi is essential to extending carrier 5G networks' coverage and enabling ubiquitous broadband and low-latency connections. This will aid in delivering much needed broadband connectivity to rural areas, powering e-commerce, smart farming, hospitals, education institutions and even emergency communications," said Alex Roytblat, senior director of worldwide regulatory affairs at Wi-Fi Alliance.