Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai announced that his department will be allocating $9 billion in funding, previously slated for a similar program to improve 4G LTE coverage in rural areas, to bolster the deployment of the next generation 5G spectrum in the same rural areas.
The news comes after major telecommunications carriers Verizon, U.S. Cellular and T-Mobile submitted 4G LTE coverage data that the FCC says was not reflective of actual tests conducted by their employees.
A report by the FCC says staffers drove nearly 10,000 miles to conduct tests of existing 4G networks based on the data provided by the carriers, with only 62 percent of the areas surveyed showing acceptable minimum download speeds.
“Mobile carriers must submit accurate broadband coverage data to the commission,” Pai said in a statement. “Simply put, we need to make sure that federal funding goes to areas that need it the most.”
The FCC will not be penalizing the carriers for the inaccuracies of their coverage maps, as no clear violations were found. However, the funds announced for the rural push of the 5G spectrum will be taken from the similar 4G program.
Grant Spellmeyer, vice president of federal affairs and public policy for U.S. Cellular said that his company “faithfully implemented” the FCC’s requirements for the coverage maps it submitted, but admitted that “better and more accurate maps are necessary.”
In a statement speaking of the reallocation of the funding from the 4G to the 5G spectrum, Pai said, “We must ensure that 5G narrows rather than widens the digital divide and that rural Americans receive the benefits that come from wireless innovation.”
The $9 billion in funding will be allocated over a 10 year period, with $1 billion set aside for what the FCC calls “precision agricultural deployments.”
This news comes at a time where the U.S. is facing pressure to keep pace with 5G deployments from around the world, most seriously in China, where the government recently launched one of the biggest single rollouts of a 5G spectrum to date, bringing more than 50 cities online with the new, faster mobile technology.