US telecoms regulator Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has announced phase one of plans to hold an auction worth US$16 billion over 10 years for the deployment of fixed broadband networks to millions of unserved homes and businesses across rural America. FCC says the US$20.4 billion Rural Digital Opportunity Fund is the FCC’s most ambitious step ever toward bridging the digital divide. The auction will prioritise bids for higher speed networks of up to 1 Gbps with lower latency. The Public Notice sets out application procedures to ensure that 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. Commission staff will closely scrutinise applications to ensure that all applicants are proposing 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 US$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.
Applications for potential bidders will be invited from July 1st, with bidding beginning on October 29th, 2020.
Editorial comment: It is almost certain that bidders proposing to use fibre will win a significant chunk of the funding on offer, however press reports suggest that bids from companies developing low-latency broadband networks based on low Earth orbit satellites, such as Elon Musk’s SpaceX would also be allowed. It will be interesting to see what the final technology mix will be.
For more information, visit www.fcc.gov