On Wednesday, Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai announced that he will grant a 90-day filing extension for rural communities and companies to dispute the FCC’s mobile broadband coverage map. The FCC is using data from the coverage map to allocate $4.53 billion in federal funds, over the next ten years, for rural broadband deployment through the Mobility Fund Phase II (MF-II) program.
The filing deadline was scheduled for August 27, 2018, but under Pai’s extension, rural communities and broadband providers have until November 2018 to file complaints with the FCC regarding their mapping data.
Congress is concerned the FCC’s coverage map has inaccuracies. Pai’s ruling was a direct response to a letter from a bipartisan coalition of Senators led by Roger Wicker (R-Mississippi). Wicker’s letter expressed concerns that the FCC’s map “misrepresents the existence of 4G LTE services in many areas.” The letter also urged the FCC to accurately identify rural areas without broadband before the MF-II funds are distributed to ensure the program shrinks the digital divide.
Industry stakeholder groups welcomed Chairman Pai’s decision to extend the filing deadline by 90 days. The Rural Wireless Association (RWA) released a statement applauding the Chairman for his decision to grant rural carriers more time to challenge the FCC’s claimed coverage in rural areas. “This extra time will help RWA members and other prospective challengers be better able to undertake the work necessary to mount successful challenges, which will, in turn, yield a more accurate 4G LTE coverage map and help to target USF support in rural areas where it is badly needed,” said RWA in a statement.