FCC chair Ajit Pai says one or more "major" telecom carriers may have violated the FCC's Mobility Fund Phase II reverse auction mapping rules and has suspended the process of handing out about $4.5 billion in subsidies pending an investigation he has just launched.
The chairman did not identify the carrier or carriers being investigated.
Carriers bid on how inexpensively they can provide mobile high-speed broadband service to areas without it, using government subsidies from the Universal Service Fund.
The investigation stemmed from a review of 20,809,503 speed tests filed with the agency.
Mobile carriers, who don't want government money spent to provide competing service, had to provide data on where areas were ineligible for the subsidy so the FCC could develop a map of those areas, but there was also a challenge process via which stakeholders could challenge the initial determination of ineligible areas.
“My top priority is bridging the digital divide and ensuring that Americans have access to digital opportunity regardless of where they live, and the FCC’s Mobility Fund Phase II program can play a key role in extending high-speed Internet access to rural areas across America,” Pai said in announcing the investigation. “In order to reach those areas, it’s critical that we know where access is and where it is not. A preliminary review of speed test data submitted through the challenge process suggested significant violations of the Commission’s rules. That’s why I’ve ordered an investigation into these matters. We must ensure that the data is accurate before we can proceed.”
Late last month, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), who was one of those challengers, told the FCC that the map overstates the availability of broadband coverage in his state.
The FCC put out the broadband map of areas eligible for Mobility Fund Phase II money over the next decade as part of its move to redirect wireless carrier subsidies away from where private capital was already at work bringing 4G LTE service to rural Americans who don’t have it today.
“As a member of the Senate Commerce Committee, I have repeatedly expressed serious concerns regarding the accuracy of the eligibility map for the FCC’s Mobility Fund Phase II auction," said Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.). "Through working with partners like the Kansas Farm Bureau, we were successful in convincing the FCC to take important steps to improve the quality of the data through a bolstered challenge process, and today’s action follows our demands that the FCC look more closely at the coverage data originally submitted to the agency. It is absolutely critical that the Commission remains focused on ensuring that our limited universal service funds are effectively and accurately targeted to areas that lack unsubsidized 4G LTE service.”