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Commissioner O’Rielly Says He Would Shorten Rural Broadband Build Out Period and Collect Accurate Broadband Maps

Jericho Casper

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Screenshot of Federal Communications Commissioner Michael O’Rielly from the hearing

June 17, 2020 — Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Roger Wicker, R-Miss., used a nominations hearing on Tuesday to grill Federal Communications Commissioner Michael O’Rielly on issues ranging from the Ligado decision to poor broadband mapping data.

The Trump administration has submitted O’Rielly’s name for re-confirmation to continue work in his current position as one of five commissioners at the independent federal agency.

Wicker said that he was unimpressed with the 10-year length of the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund, calling the build out period extraordinarily long.

“I think that there is a way to shorten the build out period,” Wicker said. “We don’t want to get consumers’ hopes up.”

He hinted at Congress being able to secure more funding to advance the pace of infrastructure buildout.

In response, O’Rielly committed to using his voice at the agency to attempt to shorten the planned buildout period, initially set for six years.

The agency’s lack of accurate mapping was further concerning to Wicker. The Broadband DATA Act recently mandated that the agency develop more accurate broadband maps.

Additionally, Wicker pointed out that the agency has continued efforts to fund broadband deployment even as it has failed to move forward on funding the collection of data for accurate broadband maps.

Wicker asked O’Rielly if he would commit to not furthering broadband funding until the agency’s maps were fixed. O’Reilly initially stopped short of committing, but after further prodding, agreed.

He assured Wicker that the FCC has staff that can begin correcting the maps immediately.

A point of contention occurred when Wicker asked if the agencies had come to a consensus on Ligado’s controversial use of radio frequency spectrum. Ligado, an internet service provider, has been allowed to operate in spite of claims that it interferes with GPS signals used by the military and aerospace manufacturers.

The battle for spectrum is set to continue, as leaders failed to come to an agreement on Tuesday.

“I do not envy the position the FCC is in because at the end of the day, there’s going to be a winner or a loser,” Wicker said. “We’re either going to have more broadband at the expense of GPS, or we’re going to protect GPS at the expense of a fourth broadband system.”

O'Rielly’s prospects for reconfirmation seem high, as Wicker confirmed that he was strongly supportive of the commissioner.

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