FCC’s Mobility Fund II will primarily benefit western half of U.S.

Mobile operators were required to submit their 4G LTE coverage maps, with sub-census-block level coverage details. (FCC)

The FCC has released a detailed map of eligibility for its Mobility Fund Phase II (MF-II) auction, designed to help bring 4G LTE service to rural areas.

The FCC plans to make up to $4.53 billion in funding available to mobile operators that are building out 4G LTE networks to underserved rural markets. The funding will be made available over a 10 year period. Operators that receive the support from the auction will build out 4G LTE mobile service that will deliver at least 10 Mbps to customers in markets that lack access to unsubsidized 4G LTE.

RELATED: FCC moves forward with $4.53B auction to fund wireless in rural areas at 10 Mbps minimum speeds

The recently released map indicates which areas of the country are “presumed eligible” for the MF-II auction. Most of the eligibility is dispersed throughout the western half of the US. States with the most coverage -- indicating areas with less access to 4G LTE -- include North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Montana, Idaho, Washington, Oregon, Nevada, Utah, California, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico and Colorado. In the eastern side of the country, eligible areas are found in states Iowa, Wisconsin, Kentucky, West Virginia and Virginia, and parts of New York and Maine.

However, the CCA -- the trade association representing the nation's smaller wireless carriers -- said the FCC's new map falls short of expectations.

“CCA has been a fervent supporter of Congress’s goal and the Commission’s efforts to use reliable data to determine eligible areas for support in Mobility Fund II based on an efficient challenge process that is robust, targeted, and strikes a reasonable balance without overly burdening small carriers," CCA President and CEO Steven Berry said in a statement. "Unfortunately, that is not possible based on the initial eligible areas map that the FCC released today. It is now clear that the parameters the FCC directed carriers to use in its one-time data collection have failed to produce a credible map of eligible areas, and it is most disappointing that absent significant changes, the Commission will fall short of Congress’s mandate for Universal Service.”

The FCC said the map is based on data submitted by mobile operators to the FCC via its MF-II Challenge Process Order. Mobile operators were required to submit their 4G LTE coverage maps, with sub-census-block level coverage details. The FCC then compared that data to its subsidy data to pinpoint where there are gaps in unsubsidized 4G LTE coverage. According to an FCC fact sheet, 3.1 million consumers representing about 1% of the U.S. population lacks access to unsubsidized LTE.

Not surprisingly, the eligibility map lines up pretty closely with coverage holes of the top U.S. wireless providers. The areas that lack 4G LTE access are remote and rural, and building out wireless networks to these areas presumably hasn't been economically feasible or desirable for wireless providers. Operators will be able to challenge the eligibility map during a five-month window between March and August.

Chelsea Fallon, director of the Rural Broadband Auctions Task Force, said the project is “on course and on schedule to deliver support to areas across the country for high-speed mobile broadband.”

The MF-II auction follows the Mobility Fund Phase I that allocated around $300 million from 2012 to 2016 to service provider bidders to build out 3G networks in rural areas.

Article updated Feb. 28 with commentary from CCA.