FCC Revives $9 Billion 5G Rural Expansion Plan

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The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has breathed new life into a stalled initiative aimed at extending 5G network coverage to America’s rural areas. The rejuvenated program, named the 5G Fund for Rural America, seeks to allocate $9 billion over the next decade to bring 5G connectivity to 14 million homes and businesses in regions currently overlooked by operators due to financial impracticalities.

Launched in 2020, the initiative faced initial setbacks due to inadequate data on coverage gaps. This led to a significant pause as the FCC updated its coverage maps, a meticulous process that culminated in the publication of a more accurate National Broadband Map last November. These refined maps now serve as a cornerstone for strategically deploying 5G infrastructure in the most needed rural locales.

FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel highlighted the importance of this updated mapping in ensuring the targeted expansion of 5G networks, emphasizing the program’s focus on areas where Americans live, work, and travel. Rosenworcel has urged the Commission to vote on the fund’s relaunch and proposed several adjustments to enhance the program’s reach and efficiency. These adjustments include expanding the eligibility criteria to include specific regions in Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands and proposing an increase in the fund’s budget to better serve tribal communities.

Moreover, the plan now encompasses a $900 million incentive for adopting Open RAN technology, which is considered more adaptable for new deployments and crucial for diversifying the telecom supply chain. This aligns with broader US efforts to bolster telecom equipment production and reduce reliance on traditional network infrastructure providers.

The initiative has also received backing through a $1.5 billion investment from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) to support Open RAN development, further demonstrating the government’s commitment to advancing 5G technology in underserved areas.

As the FCC moves forward with the 5G Fund for Rural America, the outcome of the upcoming vote and the program’s ability to navigate political challenges remain pivotal for its success in bridging the digital divide in rural America.

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