FCC chairman Tom Wheeler pledged to take action and address the rural divide in the US, in a bid to boost LTE coverage across underserved areas.
Speaking at a Competitive Carriers Association (CCA) event, Wheeler put the focus on helping rural wireless operators that rely on agreements with larger operators to provide coverage, by revising the current rules in place.
He said the commission’s roaming frameworks are “due for a fresh look” after multiple providers filed complaints alleging that the data roaming rates offered by larger providers “are commercially unreasonable”.
Before the end of the year, Wheler said the commission will update the two roaming frameworks, one for voice and one for data, and the move could see it address inconsistencies between the two.
“Tackling this issue will allow the commission to provide greater certainty in the marketplace, and promote consumer benefits and competition,” he said.
In the address, Wheeler also talked up the need for the country’s Mobility Fund, an investment initiative implemented by the commission in 2011 to spur wireless coverage development.
He revealed numerous findings from data submitted to the FCC by operators, highlighting the country’s coverage issues.
Data showed that significant “LTE coverage gaps still exist throughout the US”, said Wheeler, with 11 per cent of the nation’s road miles having no 4G coverage at all (excluding Alaska).
In addition, 16 per cent of all square miles have no LTE coverage, or only subsidised coverage, while 1.4 million Americans have no access to LTE coverage at all. 1.7 million people “live in areas where the only LTE coverage relies on a subsidy”.
“It is no accident that I’ve been describing the underserved areas as those without access to 4G LTE,” said Wheeler. “4G is table stakes for wireless connectivity in 2016. As we’re gearing up for 5G, we can’t consign parts of the country to second class digital citizenship by settling for 3G service.”
Wheeler also spoke more broadly on 5G and spectrum auctions in the speech, reiterating comments made at the CTIA event earlier this month.