The FCC voted unanimously to provide $435 million a year for a decade to expand and maintain LTE coverage across rural America and in tribal lands.
The Commission approved a second stage of the Mobility Fund, which was initially created in 2011 to preserve and extend mobile broadband and voice services in unserved and underserved areas. A first stage of the program offered service providers as much as $350 million in one-time funding toward that end, but the FCC said despite that effort people in roughly 575,000 square miles of the nation either lack access to LTE service or have only LTE service without a fallback network, the FCC said in its announcement (PDF).
The action will target areas not fully covered by unsubsidized LTE coverage with a minimum advertised download speed of 5 Mbps and will include a “robust challenge process” allowing all interested parties the chance to provide additional data to the FCC before the list of eligible areas is finalized.
To be eligible to receive the funds, service providers must be able to deliver median data speeds of at least 10 Mbps with a latency of less than 100 milliseconds, at rates that are “reasonably comparable” to urban rates.
The FCC said it will establish an auction to determine winners, with funding distributed “through a market-based, multi-round” process. The agency will reserve up to roughly $34 million of the $453 million annually to support LTE on eligible tribal lands.
“For far too long the commission has not kept its promise to America to hold an MF2 (Mobility Fund 2) auction,” Chairman Ajit Pai said during the FCC’s meeting. “And while suburban and urban America areas continue to see improvements in mobile service, many rural areas continue to be dead zones. We cannot leave these areas behind. From… agriculture to the sharing economy, mobile broadband is increasingly critical to rural America.”
In a separate move, the FCC voted 2-1 along party lines to exempt internet service providers with 250,000 or fewer broadband connections from Title II reporting requirements (PDF). The agency declared such ISPs “would be disproportionately impacted if required to comply immediately” with the reporting mandates in the 2015 Order.