The FCC has authorized Rural Broadband Experiment support totaling nearly $3.5 million for Lake Connections, a community-owned network in rural Lake County, Minnesota. The support will go toward bringing broadband service to 845 census blocks comprising 8,497 locations that do not have broadband available to them today.
Rural Broadband Experiment Support
The Rural Broadband Experiment (RBE) program was a one-time program designed to bring broadband to unserved areas but also to gain experience that would help in shaping the planned Connect America Fund reverse auction. That auction will award broadband support for areas where the incumbent carrier declined to build out broadband service at the level of support offered by the FCC. Carriers bidding in the RBE program were not allowed to request more support than the FCC offered and some winning bids requested 50% or less of the offered amount.
After initial awards were provisionally made, problems arose with the RBE program because some awardees were unable to meet a requirement that they obtain a letter of credit from one of the nation’s top 100 banks. That requirement also would have applied to the CAF reverse auction but was modified for that program. The FCC opted not to modify the requirement for the RBE program, however.
In part because of LOC issues, a considerable amount of time passed between when some awards were provisionally made and funding was actually authorized. Lake Connections was provisionally awarded funding back in 2014 but is just now having funding authorized, in part because of challenges to its award made by several cable companies.
The public notice about authorization of Lake Connections’ RBE funding notes that the company has opted to receive 30% of its total support upfront in exchange for meeting an accelerated deployment obligation to build out to 25% of eligible locations within 15 months of receiving its first disbursement.
This isn’t the first time Lake Connections has garnered government support. According to the Lake Connections website, the business previously received one of the largest awards made in the broadband stimulus program – a combination grant/ loan award totaling $66.5 million. At that time Lake County also contributed $3.5 million to the project, the website notes.