There is no program more vital to maintaining and expanding mobile voice and broadband services in rural America than Mobility Fund Phase II (“MFII”). Rural consumers and those traveling in rural America cannot be put at risk by a process that fails to preserve existing coverage or expand coverage to where it is needed most. RWA expressed grave concerns regarding the Commission’s initial MFII proposal, including:
- Use of inaccurate (and often overstated) Form 477 coverage data;
- A lax 5/1, rather than 10/1, Mbps coverage threshold to determine an area’s funding eligibility;
- A lack of opportunity to provide public input on the challenge process;
- A funding flash cut for areas deemed ineligible for funding; and
- The failure to address the GSM/CDMA incompatibility issue that could threaten voice service and public safety in affected areas that are deemed ineligible for support.
While serious concerns remain, RWA is pleased with improvements to the initial draft, including an actual transition from current support rather than a flash cut to zero in less than a year’s time. Further, RWA has advocated for the necessity of public input on the challenge process, and it welcomes the Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on this tremendously complex issue. RWA is pleased that the full Commission will consider challenge process details through an FNPRM, rather than delegating this task to the Bureaus. RWA agrees with Commissioner O’Rielly’s view that Commissioners have an obligation to consider – rather than delegate – critical issues like MFII. RWA also commends the adoption of a 10-year, rather than 5-year, funding term. This will allow long-term regulatory certainty and give recipients the legally required specific, sufficient, and predictable support necessary to facilitate universal service in these rural high-cost areas.
As is true with any program of this nature, the success or failure of MFII will lie in the details – many of which are yet to be determined. RWA will review the final Order; continue to work with Commissioners and staff to finalize particulars in regards to the challenge process, support disaggregation, and auction rules; and ensure that rural Americans are treated fairly by the processes adopted today.