FCC Actions Strengthen Our Communities and Underserved Populations
Soo Kyung Koo, International Leadership Foundation
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has taken some important steps to expand broadband access to historically underserved communities. These developments have had a tremendously positive impact on Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander (AANHPI) communities nationwide, especially in rural parts of the country where nearly 40 percent of Americans still lack access to broadband wireless services.
It goes without saying, but the AANHPI community relies on high-speed internet to stay connected to friends and family, pursue vital education and employment opportunities, and access a range of services, from e-commerce to telemedicine. However, in far too many of our communities, a lack of reliable broadband connectivity acts as a barrier to accessing these opportunities. Accelerating the deployment of broadband internet to connect more rural AANHPI communities nationwide is essential for our continued growth and success.
Fortunately, FCC has made broadband expansion a key priority, implementing initiatives that take aim at the lack of broadband access too many Americans, including the AANHPI community, face every day. These, along with other actions by the administration and 115th Congress, show slow but steady progress toward addressing this issue.
The Mobility Fund Phase II (MF-II), for example, is an FCC program that will provide up to $4.53 billion in funding for the next decade to communities that currently lack sufficient access to high-speed mobile voice and broadband service. The current phase of the funding program was advanced in early 2017 to help provide seamless nationwide access—including across rural America and in Tribal lands.
The program collected data from the major carriers to create a map of eligible areas for MF-II funding based on the regions without sufficient 4G LTE service. Released in February 2018, this initial map was then subject to a five-month period during which anyone could challenge its accuracy, beginning March 29, 2018. That five-month period just concluded at the end of August.
This crowdsourcing approach to improving the accuracy of MF-II data allowed rural and other communities—including their residents, businesses, local and state governments, and more—to challenge the map if an area not identified as needing additional funding was in fact found to have insufficient wireless broadband coverage. This inclusive effort to engage underserved communities provided a tremendous opportunity to help improve and target broadband expansion efforts where they are most needed.
Another FCC program—the Connect America Fund (CAF)—is also making considerable progress to address the lack of sufficient broadband internet connectivity in many rural and underserved communities. The CAF could help expand broadband service to 1.7 million rural Americans.
In late August, the FCC completed the reverse auction phase of this program, during which hundreds of companies bid to deliver broadband service using the FCC funds. This process helped ensure communities benefit from the best possible service at the lowest possible price. This resulted in a nearly half-a-billion-dollar savings that can now be applied to future efforts to improve connectivity nationwide.
These programs—along with the Presidential Executive Orders easing regulations in order to spur broadband expansion as well as pending legislation in Congress—are adding up to incremental progress toward a more connected America, particularly in the rural regions that need it most. However, there is still so much more that can and should be done.
The FCC must press forward with both MF-II and CAF programs while continuing to work with the administration and Congress to implement more measures that will help strengthen broadband service in rural, AANHPI, and other underserved communities across the country.