When LTD Broadband won a massive FCC auction in 2020, it was awarded access to $1.32 billion in federal funding to extend broadband delivery across 15 northern states. As Timberjay reports, the Minnesota Telecom Alliance and the Minnesota Rural Electric Association have filed a joint petition against the prospective developer, claiming that LTD has overextended itself and does not have the capacity to serve northern Minnesota. The filing asks the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission to rule against LTD and free up the available funding for other companies.
“LTD’s inability to deliver on its commitments will harm over 160,000 Minnesota residents who will ultimately never receive the broadband service LTD promised in its RDOF bid,” states the filing. “As a result, the ability of these residents to obtain access to quality broadband service will be delayed at least until LTD’s designation as an ETC is removed.”
If LTD is stripped of its status in Minnesota, it would free up $311 million in federal funding that other providers could use to reach out to underserved residents within the state, according to Timberjay. As it stands now, tracts that LTD won are not available to established providers like Midco and Paul Bunyan Communications, who could potentially extend coverage to underserved areas now instead of enduring a long wait for LTD to move in. A ruling against LTD would declare them in default of their agreement, releasing their federal funding for someone else.
“The FCC publishes a list of the census blocks where providers have defaulted, thereby making those places available for other broadband funding opportunities,” agreed FCC spokesperson Anne Veigle. “There are alternative funding programs for broadband deployment that are readily available. Numerous federal and state programs have been established or are being established to promote and fund broadband deployment, and many providers have expressed interest in serving the areas that were eligible for Auction 904.”
Minnesota is following an example set by South Dakota, which has expressed similar concerns about LTD’s ability to deliver on its promises. South Dakota regulators ruled against LTD, calling it unprepared and unable to live up to its stated goals. “The [South Dakota] Commission concludes that LTD has not demonstrated … ability to provide the supported services throughout the designated service area within a reasonable time frame,” the ruling determined.
Similar rulings in California, Kansas, and Oklahoma, also found that LTD came up short. Minnesota has specifically challenged LTD’s ability to install fiber-optic-based, high-speed broadband in a timely manner when its current delivery relies on cell tower networks. The determination in SD specifically pointed to LTD’s failure to plan ahead, factor in geographical and tribal factors, and provide cost estimates for the project. The MN challenge mirrors similar concerns.
LTD President, Corey Hauer, has said that his company is contesting the South Dakota ruling. He has stated that LTD can meet its obligations in that state, as well as in Minnesota and other states. The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission will review the situation before making its own determination.
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