On October 23, 2018, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will vote on a rule change that will restrict rural carrier’s access to spectrum needed to close the digital divide. Rural counties across the country often rely on small local providers to offer broadband services where the large nationwide carriers refuse to provide coverage.
Small carriers deliver high-speed internet to millions of rural Americans at an affordable rate in areas where nationwide carriers refuse to build networks. Despite the important role these carriers play for rural broadband customers, the FCC will vote to restrict small carriers’ access to low-cost spectrum next week.
The Report and Order drafted by FCC Chairman Ajit Pai will change the rules for the “Citizen’s Broadband Radio Service” (CBRS) program which provides affordable spectrum licenses for census tract areas. These licenses are more beneficial to large rural counties because they enable local carriers to provide broadband to smaller population centers. CTIA, a telecommunications trade association representing nationwide carriers and other stakeholders, petitioned the FCC to eliminate the census tract licenses because they interfere with larger networks. CTIA and T-Mobile proposed a “compromise” to the FCC to expand the license area from census tracts to counties. Critics argue nationwide carriers would abuse a county license by over-building in urban centers to meet their build-out requirements without adding service for under-served rural areas.
Rural advocates will intensify their political pressure in the days leading up to the FCC’s vote to encourage Members of Congress to speak out on their behalf.