We believe that every American community should have access to the connectivity of wireless networks and the apps, services, and platforms those connections enable.
The first 4G networks were rolled out in the U.S. in 2010. Today—just seven years later—these high-speed mobile networks cover 99.7% of all Americans, in urban and rural areas alike, including nearly 99% of rural Americans. And we connect Americans wherever they are—at home, at work, or on the road, covering 96% of rural road miles. We’ve made these strides even as rural areas can present challenges, such as sparse populations over expansive distances and frequently difficult terrain.
We’ve been able to build out world-leading 4G networks in this remarkably short time thanks to smart government policy and because wireless invests in America. Wireless providers have invested more than $300 billion in their networks over the last 12 years, including more than $26 billion in 2016.
We’ve made great progress in bringing wireless to rural America, but more can be done. That’s why we’re working with policymakers to expand the number of Americans who can experience world-leading wireless networks wherever they live and work.
Trends on rural coverage demonstrate the wireless industry’s commitment to serving more Americans each year. The industry is working with policymakers to enhance government data sets so they most accurately reflect these increases in service.
Policymakers can help connect more rural communities across our country by incentivizing industry investment and providing support for economically challenging areas to serve. Specifically, policymakers can:
The last significant reform of the Universal Service Fund occurred just months after 4G was deployed and created the Mobility Fund, a program designed to extend wireless connectivity in rural America. The FCC should schedule Phase II of its Mobility Fund as soon as possible, so $453M in annual support can be used to preserve and extend 4G in rural and hard-to-serve areas. And with wireless increasingly a solution for broadband at home, any “home” broadband programs must be technologically neutral.
Spectrum is the lifeblood of the wireless industry, and the repurposing and auction of both federal and commercial spectrum expand wireless carriers’ opportunities to deliver new services across America – while generating billions of dollars for the U.S. Treasury. A pipeline of new airwaves, including low-band spectrum that travels for miles and can help lower deployment costs in rural areas, is critical.
The rules for wireless infrastructure deployment have not kept up with innovative new technologies and network architecture. From the siting process on federal lands in rural and remote areas, to Tribal reviews of siting projects on non-Tribal lands, to increasing access and decreasing costs and delays at the state and local levels, all levels of government can streamline these rules to drive down the cost of deployment.
Policymakers should support and explore unique, new and existing approaches to drive more funding and improve rural deployment. For instance, national/rural provider partnerships have brought 4G to millions of rural Americans across hundreds of thousands of square miles.
Wireless can help bring healthcare services to remote communities, as WellCar—a collaboration between Sprint, Intel, Panasonic, and others—shows. These companies teamed to outfit a vehicle to provide wireless-enabled healthcare services to patients located in remote areas of Kansas, and Sprint worked to optimize coverage wherever the car traveled.
Louise, Mississippi, population 199, is home of Seward and Son Planting Company, a family farm that uses wireless connectivity to power smart solutions for their 30,000 acres. By leveraging IoT sensors and software, farms like Seward and Son can reduce their energy costs by 35% and use this wirelessly collected data to inform future planting decisions.
Building networks in some rural areas doesn’t make good business sense sometimes. But as U.S. Cellular showed in bringing 4G to Paw Paw, West Virginia, a little support can go a long way. With the help of USF funds, the company delivered 4G to the town's 508 residents, a development one public official called a "game-changer" that brought public safety and economic development benefits to the community.
Wireless networks run on spectrum, and low-band airwaves—like those from the 2017 incentive auction—are ideally suited for rural areas. T-Mobile has already begun deploying network sites across states like Wyoming, Kansas, and Oklahoma this year, a move that will expand its 4G coverage in 2017 alone by six million, mostly rural, Americans.
Nowhere is the potential of wireless more apparent than in rural America where we are on the verge of seeing its real transformative powers.”
No matter who you are or where you live in this country, you need access to modern communications to have a fair shot at 21st century success.”
Not only does building out wireless access create jobs, but it is necessary for our rural communities to thrive and be competitive in the 21st Century.”
Telecommunication and broadband connectivity in rural America ... enables new opportunities for farmers and ranchers when it comes to the millions of acres of land that they actively manage.”