The FCC Tuesday adopted procedures for Phase I of the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) auction (Auction 904), which will award up to $16 billion in support over 10 years for the deployment of fixed broadband networks to millions of unserved homes and businesses across rural America. It prioritizes bids for higher speed—up to 1 Gbps—and lower latency networks, and more than doubles the minimum speed from the FCC’s 2018 Connect America Phase II auction to 25/3 Mbps.
Bidding in the auction will begin on October 29, with the application window for potential bidders opening on July 1. Commissioners adopted procedures to ensure bidders have the business experience and financial means to deploy broadband networks and intend to use a network technology that will allow them to meet performance requirements. Agency staff will review applications to ensure applicants propose to use technologies with demonstrated success in providing mass market retail broadband to consumers to ensure taxpayer funding is not wasted.
Phase II of the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund will make available at least $4.4 billion, in addition to unallocated funds from Phase I, to target partially served areas using precise, granular broadband coverage data being developed in the Commission’s Digital Opportunity Data Collection proceeding along with areas not won in the Phase I auction.
The item passed. Both Democratic Commissioners, Jessica Rosenworcel and Geoffrey Starks, split their ballots, voting for and against parts of the item. Rosenworcel said the agency should wait until broadband location maps are fixed. Starks concurred, saying he worries the inaccurate maps will actually impede broadband deployment.
Of the calls to wait, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said those who don’t have broadband deserve access as soon as possible. “They cannot afford to wait—and neither can we as a country—while we work to develop the new, more granular broadband coverage maps that will serve as the basis for the Phase II auction. Digital opportunity delayed is digital opportunity denied.”
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