FCC kicks off $300M Mobility Fund auction for rural mobile broadband

The FCC's $300 million Mobility Fund Phase I auction got underway this morning and is expected to be concluded by this afternoon. The auction, which has 54 qualified bidders, is part of a program to expand mobile broadband coverage to rural and unserved areas of the country.

According to an FCC spokesman, the commission will announce winners either this afternoon or tomorrow morning. As of Sept. 14, the FCC counted 54 qualified entities as bidders in the reverse auction, including U.S. Cellular, several subsidiaries of T-Mobile USA, subsidiaries of Commnet Wireless, Carolina West Wireless, GCI Communication, SI Wireless, and several dozen rural operators.

The FCC will give up to $300 million in one-time Mobility Fund support to carriers that agree to provide 3G or LTE service to areas that do not currently have mobile voice and broadband coverage. Carriers will bid for the amount of support they need to meet the Mobility Fund Phase I service and other public interest obligations in the eligible census blocks covered by the geographic area on which they bid.

While relatively small in terms of the money at stake, the auction is still significant in light of the FCC's goal of expanding mobile broadband coverage. Additionally, it presages much larger and more complicated auctions the FCC is planning in the years ahead to free up more spectrum for wireless use. The FCC will vote tomorrow on proposed rules for incentive auctions of broadcast TV spectrum, which are expected to take place in 2014.

The Mobility Fund is part of the Connect America Fund that the FCC approved in November 2011 to overhaul its outdated universal service and intercarrier compensation systems in an effort to connect everyone in the United States to broadband. Phase II of the Mobility Fund is supposed to provide $500 million annually for ongoing support of mobile services.

For more:
- see this FCC page
- see this FCC document (PDF)

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