US regulator the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) advanced a proposal to establish a $9 billion fund for rural 5G deployments, asking stakeholders to comment on how the pot should be distributed.
First unveiled in December 2019, the draft plan approved in a vote yesterday (23 April) includes two distribution options: one would allocate a majority of funds through an auction in 2021 using existing mobile broadband coverage data to identify areas in need; the second would delay the auction until 2023 to allow collection of more accurate coverage details.
Ahead of the vote, Commissioners Jessica Rosenworcel and Geoffrey Starks argued the proposal presented a false choice between distributing the money quickly or accurately.
Rosenworcel said “we need to do both”, with Starks adding it would be “bad policy” to make long-term funding decisions without accurate maps.
However, FCC chairman Ajit Pai contended “we cannot pretend there is no trade-off between precision and speed”.
On a call with journalists, he explained the agency needs additional funding from Congress before it can begin work on new maps. Even then, he noted agency staff estimated it would take 18-to-24 months to collect, analyse and verify the data needed for their development.
The FCC opened a public consultation on the merits of each auction approach.
In another high-profile decision, commisioners approved new rules opening the entire 6GHz band for unlicensed use, freeing up 1200MHz of spectrum for the next generation of Wi-Fi.
While the move drew praise from the likes of the Wi-Fi Alliance, Wireless Broadband Alliance, Microsoft and Broadcom; it sparked ire among operator groups including CTIA, which hoped to secure part of the band for licensed use.