FCC Broadband Fund Decision Draws Crowd

Stakeholders inside and outside Washington were ready to weigh in after the FCC Thursday (Jan. 30) voted on rules for its new $20 billion rural broadband subsidy fund.  

The FCC has yet to release the Rural Digital Opportunities Fund (RDOF) order, which had some last-minute changes, so some were reserving final judgment until they saw the final item, but the initial reaction was predominately positive. 

“Over the past decade, the FCC has made great progress in evolving its high-cost universal service programs so that existing providers are not overbuilt and funds are awarded more cost-effectively to providers offering higher-performance broadband service," said ACA Connects president Matt Polka. "Today’s adoption of the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund by the FCC is a significant step in that evolution.  

"By adopting a challenge process to ensure eligible areas are unserved and by using the ‘budget clearing round’ approach to awarding funds in the auction, the FCC will further ensure that residents and businesses at millions of unserved locations receive broadband service that is reasonably comparable to the service urban consumers receive." 

"Twenty billion dollars is a lot of money to bridge the digital divide," said Wireless Internet Service Providers Association president Claude Aiken. "Getting it right is hard, and tough choices must be made to move this expeditiously forward. Rural Americans cannot wait and deserve being enfranchised with the rest of the country. We believe that at the end of the day, the Commission will make good on its RDOF proposal for the heartland of our country. WISPA looks forward to studying the Order, and to working with the FCC as we all endeavor to get all Americans online no matter where they live." 

"After nine months of hard work, today the FCC adopted final rules for the $16 billion first phase of RDOF that will eventually distribute essential funds to as many as six million rural homes and businesses," said USTelecom president Jonathan Spalter blogged of the decision. "While we review the details, my take on RDOF’s impact: This could be a game changer for rural connectivity." 

“AT&T is committed to helping close the digital divide and ensuring that consumers across the U.S. can reap the benefits of broadband," said AT&T EVP Joan Marsh. "We applaud the Commission for making targeted changes to the original proposal that should help ensure that the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) delivers high-speed internet access to all parts of rural America. The RDOF provides a sensible path for companies to further expand broadband networks into communities that are often the most challenging to reach.”

“NATE commends the FCC for its leadership in promoting broadband to unserved Americans," said National Association of Tower Erectors executive director Todd Schlekeway. "The $20.4 billion Rural Digital Opportunity Fund Report and Order that the Commission approved today will help connect millions of people in rural areas as well as small businesses to high-speed broadband. Just last week, NATE chairman Jimmy Miller testified before the United States Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation on workforce development and broadband expansion. His testimony also stressed that closing the digital divide is a top priority for NATE.” 

Connect Americans Now agrees with chair Pai that the RDOF is a bold step that can be a game-changer for rural communities stuck on the wrong side of the digital divide,” said executive director Richard T. Cullen. “CAN applauds the FCC for making available substantial funding for broadband deployment and supports the FCC distributing this funding in a technology and competitively neutral manner in order to maximize areas that are served at broadband speeds.”

"What has become all too evident is that, to play in our digital future, every home and business needs all-fiber connectivity," said Lisa Youngers, president of the Fiber Broadband Association. "Today, by adopting the $20+ billion Rural Digital Opportunity Fund, the Federal Communications Commission will help make that possible in a great many areas of rural America. Not only will the new program propel direct all-fiber connectivity to unserved locations, but it will support 5G wireless, smart community, smart grid, and IoT builds in rural areas as well. The Fiber Broadband Association commends today's action."

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.