FCC Tweaks Connect America Order

The FCC says it has taken steps to better insure that the broadband subsidies in the first phase of its Connect America Fund (CAF) transition from phone to broadband support is not used to overbuild existing service, something cable operators have been, and continue to be, concerned about.The FCC in May released a second tranche of money in Phase I of its Connect America Funding of rural fixed broadband buildouts in areas unserved by its definition of high-speed broadband, which it expanded to from those without dial-up speeds (768 downstream/200 Kbps upstream) to some areas lacking up to the FCC's definition of high-speed access (at least 3 Mbps downstream and 768 Mbps upstream).

In that May Report and Order on Phase I, the FCC made it optional for carriers to report changes to planned Phase I deployments. "On further reflection, we conclude that it is appropriate to require Phase I recipients to report changes in deployment plans when those decisions are made, rather than at the completion of the Phase I deployment period as required under the current rules," the FCC said.

Carriers who plan to deliver service to census blocks not identified in its initial proposal, or who plan not to serve blocks that were identified, must inform the FCC and relevant state and local governments beforehand, 90 days before hand in the case of adding blocks.

"By requiring Phase I recipients to identify new census blocks, Commission staff will be able to verify that the locations in those census blocks are, in fact, shown as unserved on the National Broadband Map," the FCC said. It will also give cable operators a heads up of where a carrier intends to build -- the Wireline Competition Bureau will issue a public notice announcing the updated plans. "This will give any existing provider the opportunity to notify the recipient that the provider already serves the census block in question, thereby furthering the Commission's objective of not supporting areas where there are unsubsidized competitors," the FCC said.

The Commission is also giving carriers an extra 15 days -- 90 instead of 75 -- to decide whether or not to accept money from that second tranche.

The FCC is trying to get more carriers to apply, since much of that money went unspent after major carriers turned down the money -- which came with build-out conditions.

"ACA is pleased that the Federal Communications Commission decided to revisit its recent decision to extend the Connect America Fund Phase I program and modify its reporting obligation for price cap LECs accepting support to require greater transparency and accountability," said American Cable Association President Matt Palka. "This is consistent with the position advocated by the independent cable community. ACA believes the FCC's new decision will better ensure that CAF money isn't allocated in areas served by our Members."

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.