Mobility Fund Phase II Challenge Process Begins March 29

The FCC recently announced that the Mobility Fund Phase II (MF-II) challenge process window will open on March 29, 2018, and will remain open for 150 days, until August 27, 2018. Challenges must be certified by the close of the challenge window. The Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC) will be managing the portal where the challenges are analyzed, processed and validated. All parties who are interested in participating in the challenge process should request MF-II Challenge Portal access by filling out this form no later than March 15, 2018.

The MF-II will make $4.53 billion in support available via a reverse auction to primarily rural areas that lack 4G LTE mobile wireless service. The MF-II challenge process will allow interested parties to submit detailed drive-test data to show that areas where mobile wireless carriers have claimed coverage of 4G LTE do not in fact have such coverage, and should be eligible for MF-II support. The FCC released a map last month that shows preliminary eligible areas. Interested parties should first review the map, and if they notice ineligible areas (the white part of the map) that should be eligible, then they should request challenge process portal credentials so they can review the detailed coverage data for specific areas.

The USAC MF-II challenge portal will make available the provider-specific data underlying the map, including a shapefile with a uniform grid, coverage maps, maps of eligible areas, and handset and clutter data. Challengers who obtain access to the data in the portal must keep it confidential. Once challengers have reviewed the data, they can proceed with conducting speed tests for the challenge. The FCC set the challenge window from March-August so that challengers in extremely rural, cold and rugged areas would have the duration of the summer season to conduct drive tests in areas that may have higher than average snow and ice coverage. The FCC does caution not to wait until the end of the challenge window to begin the challenge since the data must be processed, validated and certified before August 27.

Challengers are to collect speed data using one of the three handsets identified by the underlying provider. The purpose is to gather data to reflect an actual customer experience in the service area. In addition to speed data, the challenger will submit on a CSV-format template, “signal strength and latency; the service provider’s identity; the make and model of the device used, which must be from that provider’s list of pre-approved handsets; the international mobile equipment identity (IMEI) of the tested device; the method of the test (i.e., hardware- or software-based drive test or non-drive test app-based test); and, if an app was used to conduct the measurement, the identity of version of the app.”

USAC then will superimpose each challenged area of one square mile cell onto the initial eligibility map and remove any portions that overlap eligible areas. USAC will analyze each speed test with a methodology that determines if the challenge is successful or not. Finally, the challenge must be certified by a professional engineer via the Challenge Data Certification form.

After the challenge window closes, there will be a short time for final processing, then the challenge response window will open for 30 days. This puts the likelihood of the MF-II auction beginning in the latter part of 2018.

JSI recommends that all clients with a mobile wireless ownership interest take a look at the map at the very least, and consider obtaining the credentials for the USAC portal to review the underlying data and determine if there are any areas where a challenge is warranted. If you have any questions about the MF-II or the challenge process, please contact Cassandra Heyne or John Kuykendall in the Maryland office at 301-459-7590.