Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, is getting a shout out from wireless internet service providers (WISPs) for a bill he is introducing (co-sponsoring the bill are Shelley Moore Capito [R-W.V.] and Marsha Blackburn [R-Tenn.]), the “Accelerating Broadband Connectivity Act of 2020” (ABCA), to speed up the FCC's Rural Digital Opportunities Fund auction so it can get broadband deployed more quickly to close the rural digital divide in Mississippi and elsewhere.
The divide has been magnified by the COVID-19 pandemic-generated reliance on remote life and work.
"This bill will help even more rapidly more rural Americans get the Internet. We want thank Chairman Wicker for his dedicated leadership on this integral matter – one which accommodates today’s exigencies and works to comprehensively expand broadband deployment in unserved areas," said WISP Association president Claude Aiken."Rural providers who have won RDOF support and who voluntarily choose to begin construction within 180 days and deliver broadband within one year would be eligible to receive expedited, one-time funding offers from the FCC to build those networks. Importantly, it does this in a truly technologically neutral manner, leaving the decision process to the FCC and its upcoming auction."
The FCC is scheduled to auction access to the first $16 billion (phase one) of the $20.4 billion Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF), starting Oct. 22.
Wicker's bill would direct the FCC to allocate money to applicants who were expected to be the sole bidder and who promised gigabit speeds. It would also require the FCC to start processing provider applications for the auction by July 31 (it could more quickly identify which sole bidders might be able to get money early).
Wicker says he has heard from providers in his home state who are ready to deploy in unserved areas--the first $16 billion is targeted to unserved areas--but need the subsidy money to do so.
The senator said expediting the funding could help close the digital divide. He said that while Congress is considering the bill and is cognizant of the legal and procedural constraints on modifying FCC rules already approved, Wicker wanted some questions answered--by June 12--to help them with the legislation.
They include how the FCC would modify the auction to meet accelerated deadlines or make awards of money early and when it will update its March 17 list of areas eligible for that phase one support.
Wicker's desire to advance the auction and funding is in contrast to a number of Democrats who have been arguing the auction should be delayed until the FCC can collect more accurate data on where broadband is and isn't.
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