FCC OKs $20 billion rural broadband fund

Feb. 3, 2020
The FCC has voted to establish the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund to fund the deployment of high-speed broadband networks in rural America. Through a two-phase reverse auction ...

The FCC has voted to establish the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund to fund the deployment of high-speed broadband networks in rural America. Through a two-phase reverse auction mechanism, the FCC will direct up to $20.4 billion over 10 years to finance up to 1 Gbps broadband networks in unserved rural areas.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai first proposed the fund in August 2019.

The first phase of the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund will begin later this year and target census blocks that are wholly unserved with fixed broadband at speeds of at least 25/3 Mbps. This phase would make available up to $16 billion to census blocks where existing data indicates there is no such service available whatsoever. Funds will be allocated through a multi-round reverse auction like that used in 2018's Connect America Fund (CAF) Phase II auction. FCC staff's preliminary estimate is that about 6 million rural homes and businesses are located in areas initially eligible for bidding in the Phase I auction.

The auction will prioritize networks with higher speeds, greater usage allowances, and lower latency. To support the deployment of sustainable networks in the auction, the auction will prioritize bidders committing to provide fast service with low latency. Bidders must also commit to provide a minimum speed more than double what was required in the CAF Phase II auction.

Phase II of the program will make available at least $4.4 billion to target partially served areas, census blocks where some locations lack access to 25/3 Mbps broadband. It will use broadband mapping data being developed in the FCC's Digital Opportunity Data Collection, along with census blocks unawarded in the Phase I auction.