FCC Sets Rural Broadband Fund Auction Date

The FCC has approved an Oct. 22 start date for its auction of $16 billion in subsidies for rural broadband.

That came at its public meeting Friday (Feb. 28) on administrative procedures for administering the auction and the fund. The vote was 5-0 with one partial dissent.

The FCC last month approved a $20.4 billion Rural Digital Opportunity Fund to support broadband deployment in rural areas, with $16 billion handed out in phase one via a reverse auction.

The January Report and Order adopted the two-phase reverse auction framework for providing high-cost universal service support to bring fixed high-speed broadband service to millions of unserved Americans in high-cost areas. 

The fund will go toward deploying high-speed broadband over 10 years to areas currently lacking fixed broadband service of at least 25 Mbps download speeds and 3 Mbps upload. 

The FCC approved the auction last summer, but not the final rules for how it would be conducted.

The item voted Friday, in addition to setting the date:

•"Seeks comment on the appropriate minimum area for bidding in the Phase I auction to balance bidders’ need for flexibility against the need for an efficient and manageable auction.

  • "Proposes pre- and post-auction application requirements for auction participants, including:
  • "Collecting pre-auction “short-form” application information such as applicant ownership information and other information about the applicant’s operational and financial capabilities.
  • "Collecting post-auction “long-form” application information from winning bidders to ensure they have the technical and financial ability to meet broadband deployment obligations and public interest requirements for all carriers receiving support.

• "Promotes transparency and efficiency in the auction by seeking comment on procedures for bidding in the auction and assigning support to ensure that the fastest networks reach the most Americans and for the lowest cost feasible, as required by the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund Report and Order."

Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel was a "yes" vote, but dissented in part because she says allocating the $16 billion before the FCC has fixed its inaccurate broadband maps and dubious data. She echoed her mantra of "maps before money and data before deployment."

"Fixing the digital divide is at the heart of this agency’s mission," she said. "But doing it in a haphazard way where we are distributing billions of dollars without taking care of job one—making sure we have the data to do so—is unacceptable."

She is also unhappy that the majority decided that the money should not go to areas getting broadband subsidies from other government sources.

FCC chair Ajit Pai said that rural consumers need and deserve the same access to high speed broadband as everyone else through a fair and competitive auction of funds for deployment.

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.