A recent survey and resultant study conducted by the Rural Wireless Association presents a very positive picture of how small RLECs have used legacy USF support to improve and expand telecommunications and broadband services. It also makes a strong case that more support is needed to help them with the future provision of 5G services.
The detailed survey of its members that currently receive legacy support drew a response from over half of those members. It showed that “these USF recipients have expanded coverage and/or upgraded facilities (2G-3G-4G) since 2013.”
RWA, with this report, is encouraging the FCC to not only continue legacy support, but to increase it as part of the Commission’s previously proposed 5G Fund for Rural America. The study estimates that if the FCC were to increase “levels of legacy support to the 85% level…under the old identical support rule, it would cost about $2 billion over a ten-year period if all legacy support recipients with 500,000 or fewer subscribers were included.”
The survey/report showed a need for this additional support in the responses of its members, which expressed a number of serious concerns with deploying 5G:
Loss of universal support through reverse auctions.
High costs of fully deploying and supporting 5G.
Lack of access to affordable spectrum in rural areas.
Eroding roaming levels in rural areas.
Small subscriber bases/insufficient cash flow.
Just as federal USF support is necessary for rural carriers to meet their statutory requirement to provide Universal Service at reasonable rates, it seems to us that RLECs need additional federal help to provide 5G services. The FCC should carefully consider this report in its upcoming decision concerning the 5G Fund for Rural America.