[the hill] The Federal Communications Commission moved forward on Thursday with its plan to create a fund to close gaps in the nation's mobile wireless network.
According to the FCC's proposal, the Mobility Fund would use between $100 million and $300 million from the Universal Service Fund to increase wireless access in areas that are currently under-served. The funds would be awarded using a reverse auction to providers willing to serve areas without 3G wireless services, with companies seeking the least amount of FCC funds receiving preference.
The move is another step from the commission towards reforming the Universal Service Fund, which some lawmakers such as Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Va.) have labeled broken.
"USF’s mission of making sure all Americans have access to communications services at reasonable rates remains vital. Broadband Internet is supplanting telephone service as our basic communications platform, and it is essential for full participation in our digital economy and 21st century democracy," said FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski. "Yet today, up to 24 million Americans in the rural areas served by USF are shut out of the broadband future — either fixed or mobile."
Commissioner Meredith Baker said she has reservations about the Mobility Fund, but supports the underlying goal to promote more widespread deployment of wireless and mobile broadband. She noted the fund would be created using a one-time payment from USF funds voluntarily relinquished by Verizon Wireless and Sprint and questioned whether the FCC would be forced to use additional resources to maintain the fund once established.
"Operationally, I have a concern as to whether a one-time support mechanism will prove sustainable to provide mobile broadband services in unserved areas, or whether this effort will lead to a future further drain on resources to maintain the expanded infrastructure," Baker said. She also said upgrading consumers to the latest wireless networks is not as crucial as ensuring all areas have some form of service available.
"Upgrading service from 2G to 3G “or better” service in one county may well be worthwhile, but it does not address the challenge facing those counties that have no wireless service at all today," Baker said. "There are few more needy — or visible — consumers than those who live in the unserved areas on mobile providers’ maps."
Commissioner Robert McDowell also raised some questions about the creation of the Mobility Fund, asking how the FCC can ensure it wouldn't lead to an expansion of the USF. However, he also advocated for comprehensive reform of the USF and said he supports the creation of the fund.
FCC creates fund to close gaps in wireless service