By Mary L. Henze, AT&T Assistant Vice President of Federal Regulatory

The Mobility Fund Phase II (MF-II) auction promises to redirect billions of dollars to improving rural mobile broadband service – dollars that can fundamentally change broadband connectivity for rural communities.   In preparation for the auction, the FCC recently released an initial map of the eligible MF-II areas, identifying areas without sufficient LTE coverage to direct the dollars to where the money is needed most.

Predictably, many of the same carriers who have long criticized the FCC data collection methods have criticized the MF-II maps as well. But the FCC changed its data collection methodologies just for MF-II. The FCC has collected new data to generate an up-to-date LTE coverage map designed specifically to meet its USF goals and created a hands-on way to crowdsource more granular data through a comprehensive challenge process to make the map even better.

Last August, in response to Congressional concerns about existing FCC data, the Commission established a new, MFII-specific data collection based on standardized parameters that largely followed an industry coalition proposal. LTE carriers then set their propagation models to the parameters required by the FCC to create coverage maps that predicted the area where consumers can receive 5Mbps broadband download speeds from an unsubsidized carrier.

To refine the results of the propagation models, the FCC then adopted an MF-II challenge process that requires the collection of wireless speed data from users on the ground. In this way, the results of predictive models can be enhanced by actual speed testing. Some carriers say the challenge process isn’t robust enough and others say it’s too burdensome. The bottom line is that the challenge process gives rural communities, who know better than anyone where they don’t get wireless service, a chance to collect and submit data to change where MF-II support goes.

For a five-month period that starts tomorrow, state, local and tribal governments and carriers, as well as consumers, businesses, and organizations with FCC permission, can all challenge the map. Yes, it will take some effort and organization to participate but the requirements are clear-cut and manageable. Everyone who cares about mobile broadband connectivity in rural America should know about the MF-II challenge process and do what they can to encourage communities to participate.

Based on our analysis, the initial MF-II map is an accurate reflection of the parameters set by the FCC. But all wireless coverage maps are created using “propagation models,” which predict coverage on the ground. Those predictions are based on refined models and data inputs that account for tower height, signal strength, terrain, buildings, vegetation, weather, and more. Different inputs will generate different coverage predictions. But the debate has gone on long enough. The call by some for new data and new mapping at this point is a red herring for further delay. Rural Americans need new LTE deployment, not another protracted battle over dueling propagation models.

Rural consumers need and deserve better wireless broadband service now. That means putting MF-II dollars to work where they are needed most by finishing the challenge process, finalizing the map and moving ahead as quickly as possible to bring LTE service to rural Americans.

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