FCC Chairman Ajit Pai wants to extend the Connect America mobility fund challenge process by 90 days. At issue is a map issued by the FCC that shows certain areas having LTE coverage where some say that coverage does not exist.

Pai’s action came in response to a letter signed by 30 U.S. senators that said the map “falls short of an accurate depiction of areas in need of universal service support.” The senators noted that communities incorrectly deemed ineligible could lose out on up to $4.5 billion in support over the next 10 years, thereby “exacerbating the digital divide and denying fundamental economic and safety opportunities to rural communities.”

The mobility fund is designed to cover some of the costs of providing LTE service in areas where LTE is not available today.

Mobility Fund Challenge Process
In his letter, Pai said he was committed to ensuring that the challenge process will produce a high-quality map and said he had directed the Rural Broadband Auctions Task Force to determine the procedural steps necessary to accomplish that.

The Rural Wireless Association applauded Pai’s letter in a press release, noting that the challenge process extension “will help to alleviate the significant burden of participating” in the process. RWA previously submitted data to the FCC showing that it would take rural carriers as many as 31.3 hours per day or more for the entire initial 150-day challenge period to challenge claimed coverage in their service areas. A key concern was a change in parameters used for testing coverage areas.

“The 90-day extension will help challengers “undertake the work necessary to mount successful challenges, which will, in turn, yield a more accurate 4G LTE coverage map and help to target USF support in rural areas where it is badly needed,” the RWA said.

Pai said in his letter that the FCC hopes to release a list of qualifying handsets for public testing within the next two weeks “so that local governments can more easily enlist volunteers.”