Today, the Rural Wireless Association, Inc. (RWA) filed a report with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC or Commission) highlighting the successes that small rural wireless carriers have achieved since their legacy support was frozen at 60% of the baseline level in 2013. The report shows that survey respondents have achieved the following in the past 7 years: (1) increased data speeds for rural customers from less than 10 Mbps to more than 25 Mbps; (2) deployed 348 new and 711 upgraded cell sites; and (3) increased the percentage of their covered service areas when migrating from 2G to 3G to 4G LTE services. The increases in coverage and upgrades to service were performed using $30 million in federal funds annually over the past 7 years which equates to approximately $210 million over the 7-year timeframe.
As the Commission contemplates how it will move forward with its proposed 5G Fund for Rural America rulemaking, it should keep in mind that small rural wireless carriers receiving legacy support, many of which serve 10,000 or fewer customers, have been excellent stewards of universal service support and should have the flexibility to continue to use such support at current levels or at increases of up to 25% to bring 5G to their rural communities while continuing to support existing 2G, 3G and 4G LTE networks. By leveraging their current infrastructure, these small rural wireless carriers will continue to make excellent use of USF support to provide those living and traveling in their rural communities with 5G services.