The FCC last week announced it received 181 applications for its proposed $100 million experiment to explore how to expand broadband in rural America.
The total value of the proposed projects is about $885 million, suggesting even before the experiment is conducted there is widespread demand for far more than the minimum level of broadband service many think is adequate for rural markets.
The Federal Communications Commission wants to evaluate the practicality and the effects of providing broadband service at 100 Mbps downstream and 25 Mbps upstream, far in excess of the current Connect America Fund standard of 4 Mbps down and 1 Mbps up.
As a practical matter, this is an experiment that will render data that will help the agency decide how to allocate Universal Service Fund (USF) money.
Also, the agency will be spending the three-quarters of the total experiment fund looking at connectivity options in rural areas at rates far in excess of average wireless broadband speeds. The findings from this part of the experiment could inform the debate over what an adequate level of service is in areas that are difficult and expensive to reach with wireline connections. Many argue that wireless broadband is adequate, while others disagree.
The FCC said the 181 applications are from more than 76,000 census blocks in all 50 states and Puerto Rico. The proposals include a total of almost 600 project bids.
The agency said it will spend the next few weeks identifying provisional winning bidders, who then will be required to submit information demonstrating their financial and technical ability to participate in the $100 million experiment.
Finalists able to meet financial, technical and other regulatory requirements could launch their experiments as early as next spring.
The FCC’s rural broadband experiments will inform the agency’s broader effort to expand rural broadband through its Connect America Fund. They will also inform the FCC’s efforts to ensure consumers everywhere can benefit from the sweeping technological advances occurring now in the communications industry, while preserving consumer protection, competition, universal service and access to emergency services during these transitions.
The $100 million available for the experiments is divided into three groups:
• $75 million to test competitive interest in building networks that are capable of delivering 100/25 service.
• $15 million to test interest in delivering service at 10/1 speeds in “high-cost” areas.
• $10 million for 10/1 service in areas that are “extremely costly” to serve
Current bidders include a diverse group of entities, including competitive providers, electric utilities, wireless internet service providers, and others, the agency said.
The program was applauded by the American Cable Association, which represents hundreds of companies that do business in rural areas.
“For many years, ACA has sought to have the FCC pivot from its traditional approach of awarding universal service funding only to incumbent price cap carriers and instead employ more efficient and competitively neutral mechanisms,” said ACA president Matt Polka.
Filed Under: Industry regulations