Maps based on inaccurate data that overstate coverage in rural areas could limit federal support from going to areas where it is needed most
WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) joined Senators Roger Wicker (R-MS), Maggie Hassan (D-NH) and Jerry Moran (R-KS) in urging the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to extend the challenge process for the map of eligible areas for Mobility Fund Phase II (MFII) support. This map is intended to reflect areas that lack unsubsidized mobile 4G LTE service, but overstates coverage in many rural parts of Minnesota. The FCC’s eligibility map will determine up to $4.53 billion in support for rural wireless broadband expansion over the next 10 years. Inaccurate data could mean this funding cannot be used to improve coverage in areas that currently have poor service. The senators asked the FCC to extend the challenge process window by 90 days to allow challengers to assemble the necessary data to challenge the eligibility map in their area.
“The MFII process presents an opportunity to take significant steps to address the digital divide and preserve and expand mobile broadband in rural areas. We strongly urge you to ensure this opportunity is available to all communities deserving support through compiling accurate data that reflects our constituents’ experience, including providing additional time for challengers to submit data, conducting additional information sessions for state, local, and Tribal governments, and providing Congress with an update on final eligible areas before conducting an auction of support,” the senators wrote.
In addition to Klobuchar, Wicker, Hassan, and Moran, the letter was signed by Brian Schatz (D-HI), Roy Blunt, (R-MO), Angus King (I-ME), Cory Gardner, (R-CO), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Pat Roberts, (R-KS), Jeanne Shaheen, (D-NH), James Lankford, (R-OK), Ron Wyden, (D-OR), Richard Shelby (R-LA), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-MS), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Ron Johnson (R-WI), Todd Young (R-IN), Thom Tillis (R-NC), Christopher Coons (D-DE), Claire McCaskill (D-MO), Kamala Harris (D-CA), Tina Smith (D-MN), Tom Udall (D-NM), Catherine Cortez-Masto (D-NV), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Doug Jones (D-AL), Edward Markey (D-MA) and Deborah Fischer (D-NE).
As a member of the Senate Commerce Committee and co-chair of the bipartisan Senate Broadband Caucus, Klobuchar has been a leader in pushing to expand and improve communications infrastructure in rural areas. Klobuchar and Fischer led the Rural Spectrum Accessibility Act to boost wireless broadband coverage across rural America by incentivizing wireless carriers to lease unused spectrum to rural or smaller carriers to expand wireless coverage to more rural communities. A provision based on this bill was signed into law in March of this year.
In April, Klobuchar and Wicker announced the passage of their legislation, the Precision Agriculture Connectivity Act of 2018, by the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation. The bill would direct the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to establish a task force to identify gaps in broadband connectivity for the nation’s cropland and ranchland.
Last May, Klobuchar, Wicker and Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) introduced the bipartisan Rural Wireless Access Act of 2017 to expand broadband deployment using accurate coverage maps. Last April, Klobuchar and Fischer led a bipartisan group of 56 senators in urging the FCC to continue advancing broadband deployment in rural communities. Klobuchar and Senator Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) also introduced legislation to measure the economic impact of broadband on the U.S. economy.
The full text of the letter can be found below:
Dear Chairman Pai:
As you know, many of us have expressed concern about the accuracy of the Federal Communications Commission’s map of eligible areas for Mobility Fund Phase II Support (MFII). This map is intended to reflect areas that lack unsubsidized mobile 4G LTE service, but it unfortunately falls short of an accurate depiction of areas in need of universal service support. Therefore, the FCC’s challenge process will play an outsized role in determining appropriate eligible areas for MFII support. Communities in our states that are not initially eligible or successfully challenged will be ineligible for up to $4.53 billion in support over the next 10 years, exacerbating the digital divide and denying fundamental economic and safety opportunities to rural communities.
While you have noted that state, local, and Tribal governments can participate in the challenge process, absent additional direction, they may remain unaware or unprepared to do so. We appreciate and encourage additional outreach to state, local, and Tribal governments on how they can participate in the challenge process. However, with less than 100 days remaining and additional state outreach presentations not yet completed, MFII challengers will struggle within the current timeframe to provide requisite information that will correct significant flaws in the current map. Additionally, the parameters for challenges have already changed once during the existing challenge timeframe through the Order on Reconsideration on April 30, 2018, altering existing measurements for challenges.
In recent testimony before the Senate Appropriations Committee, you expressed that the FCC has “some flexibility [for] an extension of time” to ensure sufficient time for state and local governments, as well as carriers and other potential challengers, such as state farm bureaus, to fully participate in the process. To provide this additional time and encourage participation in the challenge process, we urge you to extend the current challenge process window by 90 days.
The MFII process presents an opportunity to take significant steps to address the digital divide and preserve and expand mobile broadband in rural areas. We strongly urge you to ensure this opportunity is available to all communities deserving support through compiling accurate data that reflects our constituents’ experience, including providing additional time for challengers to submit data, conducting additional information sessions for state, local, and Tribal governments, and providing Congress with an update on final eligible areas before conducting an auction of support.