FCC launches a $9 billion fund to expand 5G in rural areas

The goal is to close the digital divide over the next 10 years.

Mark Wilson via Getty Images

The Federal Communications Commission today launched the 5G Fund for Rural America, a 10-year, $9 billion program designed to help close the nation’s digital divide. The money will be used to expand 5G wireless broadband connectivity to areas of the United States that need this support, including regions without unsubsidized 4G LTE or 5G mobile broadband, and Tribal lands. Specifically, $680 million has been allocated for bidders focusing on Tribal lands.

That’s all part of Phase I, which has been budgeted $8 billion. Phase II provides $1 billion plus any unused money from the first round to build out 5G networks in support of precision agriculture. Any bidder that receives money from the 5G Fund agrees to establish 5G mobile broadband at speeds of at least 35/3 Mbps.

This entire plan accounts for T-Mobile’s promise to deploy 5G coverage to 99 percent of the US population within six years of its merger with Sprint, which was completed in April. In today’s announcement, the FCC makes sure to note that this is an “enforceable commitment to the Commission” on T-Mobile’s part.

In January, the FCC committed $20.4 billion to bring high-speed broadband internet to underserved regions in America over the next 10 years. The 5G Fund for Rural America was announced back in December, and today the FCC formally adopted the program.