According to a 2016 report from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), about 23 million rural Americans are without broadband internet access. On August 3, the FCC voted to begin the Mobility Fund Phase II (MF II), the reverse auction process to dole out $198 million annually for 10 years to private companies to create and maintain new internet infrastructure. FCC Takes Next Step Toward $2 Billion Rural Broadband Expansion, F.C.C.-17-101. The FCC also voted to expand its data collection and to establish a process to let stakeholders push for funding in any area the FCC initially deems ineligible for the money. This is the largest governmental push for rural internet access to date, although some trade groups have concerns about the FCC’s plan.
One trade group representing small and rural broadband providers worry that the challenge process will give large companies a chance to slow down dispersement of MF II funds to small companies, which would significantly damage the small companies chances of expanding their networks. On the other side, C Spire, a larger broadband provider in the southeastern U.S., believes that the FCC’s plan does not go far enough. A company spokesperson stated his concern that the FCC’s data may overstate rural broadband connectivity, resulting in fewer subsidized areas.
Private companies, such as Microsoft Corp., have also been making pushes to deliver broadband to rural areas, but those efforts have been met with resistance as well. For example, one Microsoft project to deliver broadband on unused television frequencies drew criticism from rural broadcasters that they would not be able to switch their broadcasting to next-generation TV signals on the bands that Microsoft would occupy.
Despite concerns from various groups, however, the policy goal of delivering broadband internet to rural areas is something everyone can get behind. It is a bipartisan issue which has been the centerpiece of rural policy, the new FCC staff’s policy, and was even part of President Trump’s campaign promises to update infrastructure nationwide. The only thing that is left is to decide how to do it.