FCC Chair Wants to Pump $9 Billion Into Rural 5G

The lack of rural broadband internet in farm country impacts a farmer's ability compete in the global marketplace ( MGN )

The chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) wants to forgo efforts to build out 4G wireless networks across underserved areas of the country and move straight to 5G. Chairman Ajit Pai on Wednesday rolled out plans to take the $4.5 billion allocated for 4G rollout in rural areas over the next 10 years, double it to $9 billion and focus solely on the faster 5G network that is just starting to deploy in urban areas.

“5G has the potential to bring many benefits to American consumers and businesses, including wireless networks that are more responsive, more secure, and up to 100 times faster than today’s 4G LTE networks,” said Chairman Pai.  “We want to make sure that rural Americans enjoy these benefits, just as residents of large urban areas will.”

A significant chunk of that funding, $1 billion, will be devoted to projects involving precision agriculture.

“America’s farms and ranches have unique wireless connectivity needs, as I’ve seen across the country,” Pai said. “That’s why I will move forward as quickly as possible to establish a 5G fund that would bring next-generation 5G services to rural areas and would reserve some of that funding for 5G networks that promote precision agriculture.  We must ensure that 5G narrows rather than widens the digital divide, and that rural Americans receive the benefits that come from wireless innovation.”

Senior FCC officials said the 4G plan was scuttled, in part, because coverage maps provided by mobile carriers significantly overstated coverage in rural areas.

According to mobile chip maker Qualcomm, 5G networks will be capable of average speeds of about 100 megabits-per-second and peak speeds of 20 gigabits-per-second. It also has a larger capacity than current 4G wireless networks. Those speed and capacity benefits are seen as key for expansion of internet-enabled devices such as crop and equipment sensors.