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The FCC is planning votes on two issues critical to U.S. wireless carriers at its meeting next week, including Phase II mobility funding and regulation of Business Data Services.

According to a copy of FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler’s Mobility Fund proposal circulated at the end of October, the commission is considering auctioning off $470 million each year over the next five years in support of the preservation and extension of wireless 4G LTE services where the market itself can’t sustain or expand service. That figure represents a boost over the $300 million in one-time funding provided by Mobility Phase I to help carriers expand 3G or better mobile service.

The proposal calls for $50 million of the $470 million in annual support to be earmarked for 4G LTE on eligible tribal lands. Areas eligible to receive some of the remaining $420 million include “any portion of a census block not fully covered by unsubsidized 4G LTE coverage,” according to the document.

The proposal also sets service requirements for participating carriers, including baseline data speeds of 10 mbps downstream and 1 mbps upstream, as well as latency of less than 100 milliseconds, and service rates comparable to those available in urban areas.

Wheeler’s proposal would see Phase II phase out legacy wireless support from the FCC’s Universal Service Fund with an end date of July 1, 2021.

Though groups like the Rural Wireless Association (RWA) have previously pushed the FCC to take action on the mobility fund, RWA General Counsel Carri Bennet recently expressed concern over the speed at which the Mobility Fund is moving forward. In particular, she pointed to a need for more carrier input on undiscussed topics before the proposal is adopted.

“RWA heartily agrees with the Wireless Telecommunications Bureau’s conclusion that there is a ‘significant need’ for ongoing support for mobile broadband service, and supports action in this docket,” Bennet said. “But RWA urges the Commission to focus on getting MFII done right, rather than done hastily. To this end, the Commission should release a Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking before the end of the year that seeks input on a number of outstanding issues that have not been publicly vetted, and allow carriers – those that actually provide mobile broadband services in rural areas – to comment.”

Action on BDS

As promised by Wheeler in September, the FCC’s agenda for the next meeting also aims for action on Business Data Services (BDS), formerly known as Special Access.

Wheeler’s BDS proposal calls for “light-touch regulation of packet-based Business Data Services.” It would also “retain and update price cap regulation for lower-bandwidth TDM-based Business Data Services to ensure that lack of competition does not unfairly harm commercial customers or the consumers who rely upon these services.”

Thus far, the measure has been a contentious one, sparking pushback from cable and telecom players like the NCTA – The Internet & Television Association and Centurylink who have warned the new regulations will result in less – not more – fiber deployments for 5G backhaul and harm broadband innovation. Network trade association INCOMPAS, however, has cheered the proposal as a way to address what it called a lack of competition in the BDS market.

Roaming and LTE classification

In addition to the mobility fund and BDS, the FCC is also aiming to tackle roaming obligations for commercial carriers and the regulatory classification of voice-over-LTE (VoLTE) services at the Nov. 17 meeting.

Wheeler’s proposal on roaming seeks industry comment on the adoption of a unified Title II roaming standard for both voice and data, which for wireless carriers would translate to “competitive access to voice and data roaming on ‘just and reasonable’ terms.” The measure also includes language to adopt the same regulatory classification for VoLTE as conventional mobile service so VoLTE is covered by the new, unified roaming standard.

According to the proposal, VoLTE has not yet been classified and is not currently subject to any roaming standard.

Again, this agenda item is one that has been high on RWA’s “needs to be addressed” list.

In September, Bennet told Wireless Week a lack of robust roaming agreements – combined with dwindling mobility fund support – had put a major strain on smaller and rural carriers across the country. Over the last two years alone, she said, around 10 CCA carrier members had sold their spectrum, cut coverage, and shut up shop.

“What I hear repeatedly from them is they can’t make it work because they don’t have enough customer base to support the network while at the same time they’ve lost roaming revenue and they aren’t getting the Universal Service support that they need,” she continued.

Bennet pegged the mobility fund and roaming agreements as two of CCA’s top priorities heading in to the new year.

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