FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr addressed attendees of the 2023 Rural Wireless Infrastructure Summit in a fireside chat moderated by Rural Wireless Association (RWA) General Counsel Carri Bennet.
Commissioner Carr discussed proposed changes to the Universal Service Fund contribution system, which he described as “stuck in a death spiral.” The Commissioner spoke of his continuing advocacy for reliance on contribution amounts from Big Tech and recognized increasing momentum in Congress to stabilize the USF contribution base.
“To me, the most important thing we can do to stabilize the fund is get legislation passed in Congress that would empower us to assess some of the technology companies that are benefiting,” Commissioner Carr said. “I just think that’s something we have to get done if we’re going to have universal service.”
In his remarks, Commissioner Carr also noted his support for the Defend Our Networks Act and the need to quickly appropriate funds for the FCC’s Reimbursement Program to ensure stability of rural networks.
Commissioner Carr also mentioned the multiple struggles that that USAC’s systems have encountered, noting that he “continue[s] to hear concerns about their performance.” He suggested that USAC should be brought directly under the FCC so that the Commission may have better oversight of USAC.
Commissioner Carr also answered questions concerning the FCC’s lapse in spectrum auction authorization explaining that the FCC still has the authority to license spectrum from concluded auctions, specifically noting the 2.5 GHz auction as an example. Commissioner Carr stated that the FCC’s Section 309(a) authority to issue spectrum licenses is separate from its 309(j) authority to conduct spectrum auctions, which has expired.
Commissioner Carr also spoke about the importance of building a strong workforce. Commissioner Carr has been working on this issue with community colleges, identifying what characteristics of a successful 5G workforce training program would look like, including being near a military facility, near an anchor tower company for teaching, and reaching out to high schools with tower climbing information and opportunities. Commissioner Carr said the key is being plugged into the local community.
Commissioner Carr touched on the new FCC proceeding on Supplemental Coverage from Space (SCS). RWA General Counsel Carri Bennet asked about the intersection of SCS and the 5G Fund. Bennet voiced RWA members’ fears concerning both co-channel and adjacent channel interference and future 5G funding. Bennet expressed concern that the rural 5G network investments taking place now could end up being stranded investment if not properly supported through the 5G Fund. Commissioner Carr responded that the FCC is cognizant of making sure that rural wireless companies have a fair shot with respect to SCS technology, rather than opening the technology up only to companies with nationwide footprints, which he noted “would be a mistake.”
“I don’t think it’s ever going to be a complete replacement for terrestrial wireless, so I do think we have to continue to make sure we have a robust, thriving terrestrial wireless as we see this new technology develop.”