Buried in the depths of a FCC press release, the authority has said Verizon, T-Mobile, and US Cellular exaggerated on 4G coverage maps but no punishments are being considered.
As part of the Mobility Fund Phase II, telcos were given federal support for rolling out 4G services to rural and underserved areas. This cash was supposed to bridge the digital divide, and as part of the agreement, the telcos were obliged to provide accurate coverage maps to ensure the cash was being spent in the right manner.
Following an investigation into the initiative, it was found Verizon, T-Mobile, and US Cellular misled the FCC on their 4G footprint. Data was presented to the Commission exaggerating the extent of 4G coverage, in other words, these three telcos were not spending federal money as promised. These telcos were effectively lying to the Commission and the general public.
Interestingly enough, the FCC does not currently have any plans to punish the trio, instead has created a new initiative to apply for federal funds. All three will be invited to apply for the Government hand-out. This is perhaps the latest example of a toothless watchdog, with the bureaucrats in charge in procession of the same spine as a lifeless slug.
The new fund will make $9 billion available to ensure 5G connectivity reaches the areas in the US which the telcos elect to ignore.
“We want to make sure that rural Americans enjoy these benefits, just as residents of large urban areas will,” said FCC Chairman Ajit Pai. “In order to do that, the Universal Service Fund must be forward-looking and support the networks of tomorrow.
“Moreover, America’s farms and ranches have unique wireless connectivity needs, as I’ve seen across the country. That’s why I will move forward as quickly as possible to establish a 5G Fund that would bring next-generation 5G services to rural areas and would reserve some of that funding for 5G networks that promote precision agriculture.”
The announcement of the 5G Fund for Rural America is the very press release the FCC decided to attempt to bury the findings of the report. Considering how much work has been done to disguise the Mobility Fund Phase II investigation, few should be surprised Verizon, T-Mobile and US Cellular will get away with ignoring rules and spending tax payer’s money in an irresponsible manner.
This is a saga which has been on-going for some time, after smaller, rural telcos complained the nationwide players were exaggerating coverage maps. These coverage maps helped the FCC determine who should get a slice of the $4.5 billion reserved for the Mobility Fund Phase II. What is being done to make sure the same abuses do not reoccur is unknown. It does appear nothing right now.
Telcos have shown on numerous occasions they cannot be trusted to act responsibly on their own, but when a watchdog ignores such flagrant disregard for the rules it simply encourages the telcos to push the definitions of right and wrong even further.
The FCC has failed the general public here, the very people it is supposed to serve.
Looking at the 5G Fund for Rural America, the objective is simple. Telcos prioritise deployment in areas which are commercially more attractive, the larger cities and major transport hubs. This is forgivable, these are commercial companies after all not charities, but the federal funds are designed to offset some of the extraordinary expense for network deployment. It is a reasonable way to spend federal dollars when managed correctly.
$9 billion will be set aside for the rural communities, which includes $1 billion which will have to be spent on delivering connectivity solutions for the agricultural industry. With an election on the horizon, this is a very intelligent move. In 2016, President Trump arguably won because he was able to mobilise communities and individuals who were feeling marginalised; in the digital world, farmers fit this description perfectly.
The question which remains is whether the same telcos can be trusted to appropriately spend their allocation of the $9 billion moving forward. Seeing as the FCC is currently proving itself as toothless, there doesn’t seem to be any deterrent to behave, which is an interesting position to be in.