WASHINGTON, DC - Rural wireless carriers have been saying that the FCC needs better mobile broadband coverage maps before it makes decisions about whether to award or deny $4.53 billion in Mobility Fund Phase II (MF-II) support requests. Now, thanks to the efforts of Womble Bond Dickinson attorneys Carri Bennet and Erin Fitzgerald on behalf of rural carriers, the FCC is investigating possible MF-II rules violations by Verizon, T-Mobile, AT&T and Sprint.

The MF-II service coverage maps submitted by each carrier under penalty of perjury are key to the dispute. The map is based on carrier-provided data, but this data can be challenged. If an area is found to lack mobile broadband coverage, a local carrier can file to serve that area via reverse auction - and perhaps qualify for some of the $4.53 billion in federal MF-II support funds.

But now, the FCC has suspended the challenge-and-response process after a preliminary review revealed what FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said “suggested significant violations of Commission rules.”

Rural broadband companies and some in Congress have said that rural carriers need more accurate data before the MF-II reverse auction takes place. The FCC’s decision to pause the process and review possible rules violations is a victory for these rural carriers - and the rural customers they serve.

The Rural Wireless Association has been at the forefront of advocacy efforts for rural carriers and customers. Bennet serves as RWA General Counsel and Fitzgerald as its Regulatory Counsel.

In a statement to TR Daily , Bennet said, “Overstated coverage by Verizon and others has caused RWA’s members to spend millions of dollars and thousands of hours to prove a negative. We know that out of 106 entities that had access to the USAC portal, only 21 submitted challenges. Many entities, RWA members included, made the difficult decision to sit out the challenge process — not because of a lack of interest, but because the overstated coverage across the country made participation prohibitively expensive. To illustrate just how high a barrier to entry there was, three small rural wireless carriers submitted more than 37 percent of the total test points submitted nationwide. This was not the ‘robust’ challenge process that the Commission envisioned.”

Headquartered in Washington, D.C., RWA - the Rural Wireless Association is a trade association representing rural wireless carriers who each serve fewer than 100,000 subscribers. RWA’s members have joined together to spread the delivery of new, efficient and innovative wireless technologies to remote and underserved communities.

Also, click here to read how Bennet discussed supply chain issues impacting rural broadband carriers and their customers with the New York Times.

Carri Bennet has more than three decades of experience representing wireline, wireless and broadband communications providers, as well as commercial and noncommercial broadcasters, in regulatory compliance matters. She has a particular focus on advocating for small rural carriers, including serving as General Counsel to the Rural Wireless Association. Bennet represents telecom industry clients before the FCC, state regulatory agencies, the courts, and Congress.

Erin Fitzgerald advises telecommunications carriers, broadband service providers, and technology companies on complex commercial and regulatory matters. Erin also serves as Regulatory Counsel to the Rural Wireless Association, and has extensive experience on issues regarding privacy/data protection, spectrum auctions, universal service, broadband deployment, data roaming, network neutrality, and wireless licensing. Erin advocates in rulemaking and policymaking proceedings on behalf of RWA as well as individual clients, and frequently appears before the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).