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N.Y. Rep. Raps Charter Over RDOF Waiver Request

New York Republican Rep. Elise Stefanik is calling on the FCC to deny Charter's petition that the commission waive RDOF funding to census blocks where Charter is already required to build out 25/3 high-speed broadband per a settlement with the State's Public Service Commission. 

As part of its deal to get its Time Warner Cable deal approved by New York State, a process that as a long and contentious one, Charter agreed to New York PSC broadband buildout conditions.  

The FCC, in proposing its Rural Digital Opportunities Fund, which is billions of dollars for broadband buildouts, said that money could not go to places where federal or state money from other programs was already going to subsidize service, the idea being to avoid putting funds into overbuilding areas where high-speed broadband was already on the way. But the frameworks' census block requirements do currently allow for Charter to be overbuilt. 

Related: FCC Rural Broadband Fund Decision Draws Crowd

Charter said the FCC should waive its census block criteria to also exclude funds going where Charter is already required to build out and says it is in the process of doing. 

The Commission may waive any provision of its rules “if good cause therefor is shown," Charter told the FCC in petitioning for the waiver earlier this month. "Good cause plainly exists to grant the waiver to avoid overbuilding areas in which Charter has already begun the process of deploying service and is investing private capital well in excess of $600 million," it said. "This will ensure scarce universal service support is deployed to close the gap/digital divide in actually unserved areas. The Commission has previously granted rule waivers where, as here, the purposes of the rule would be disserved by its strict application, and where waiver would affirmatively serve the public interest." 

Stefanik disagrees. 

“I strongly oppose Charter’s waiver request to the FCC, as it would reverse much of the eligibility for rural communities to access broadband project funding through the RDOF,” she said in a statement. “I worked with FCC chairman Pai this past January to include New York State on the list of states eligible for RDOF funding and to get that funding to our upstate communities who so desperately need broadband access. I have heard directly from constituents and local elected officials that this decision would have a severe impact on their ability to gain rural broadband access, which is essential, especially during this time of crisis." 

It is unlikely RDOF money could be supplied to an overbuilder in time to provide it any sooner than Charter since the company is under a September 2021 New York State deadline. Charter said it will have begun serving some of those areas even before the scheduled October 2020 start of that auction 

Regardless, Stefanik said she will work with her colleagues and the FCC to keep that RDOF funding available to Upstate New York.