FCC Handing Out $163 Million More in Rural Broadband Bucks

A rural ranch in Montana
(Image credit: Getty Images)

The Federal Communications Commission has authorized more than $163 million to 42 providers in the second round of phase one of Rural Digital Opportunity Fund broadband buildouts.

The second round will cover approximately 65,000 locations in 21 states.

“More help is on the way to households without broadband,” said FCC acting chair Jessica Rosenworcel.

In August 2019, the FCC voted to propose handing out over $20 billion in Universal Service Fund (USF) subsidies for rural fixed broadband over the next decade, money that could go to cable broadband providers as well as telecoms.

The FCC is giving out up to $16 billion in phase one to deploy broadband, with 386 providers having qualified to bid in the reverse auction.

Back in July, the FCC approved over $311 million in 21 states in phase one of the buildout program, which will distribute $16 billion of the $20 billion total.

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The FCC is trying to make sure the money goes to unserved areas, which it says let to 85 bidders choosing not to buildout over 5,000 census blocks after the FCC asked them to review their bids due to evidence there was already existing service.

The FCC has said defaulted winning bid areas would immediately become eligible for other broadband funding — the Biden administration has given out billions of dollars in state and local broadband deployment grants, for example.

Carriers bid on how economically they could deliver service that meets FCC speed and buildout metrics. The money is for fixed voice and broadband service to unserved, high-cost, areas at speeds of at least 25 Megabits per second upstream and 3 Mbps downstream. While service of at least that 25/3 high speed definition is eligible for the money, the FCC is prioritizing bids for higher speeds and lower latency.

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Democrats on the FCC had argued the agency should not give out that money until it had gotten better data on where broadband is and isn‘t, something it is working on on its own initiative as well as at the command of Congress. But the FCC‘s Republican majority at the time (August 2019) voted to proceed. 

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.