A group of winners in the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund reverse auction have asked the FCC for the opportunity to review certain information contained in the long-form applications of other winners whose bids have come into question.
The group, which calls itself Ensuring RDOF Integrity, or ERIC, specifically wants to review the information for seven of the largest winning bidders in the auction.
“In reviewing auction results, ERIC has determined that certain bidders have over-promised services based on presently unproven technologies, at unfeasibly low costs, to the deleterious effect of harming rural Americans who desperately need advanced services,” ERIC says in a filing with the FCC.
An ERIC representative did not immediately reply to an inquiry from Telecompetitor asking for additional information about ERIC members.
ERIC RDOF Concerns
The RDOF program was designed to cover some of the costs of bringing broadband to rural areas using a reverse auction that awarded funding to the bidder requesting the lowest level of support. A weighting system favored bids to provide higher-speed, lower-latency service and as a result, 85% of winning bids were for the highest gigabit speed tier.
The filing notes seven bidders whose RDOF bids merit closer scrutiny, according to ERIC.
Among these are four wireless ISPs –LTD Broadband, Nextlink/ AMG Technology Group, Resound Networks and Starry/ Connect Everyone. All four companies were among the top 10 winning bidders in the RDOF auction.
ERIC expresses concern that fixed wireless will not be able to provide the 1 Gbps downstream/ 500 Mbps upstream speeds to which the providers committed. (It’s worth noting that LTD Broadband bid to build gigabit fiber broadband, not fixed wireless, although there are rumors that some companies that made such bids will seek to use fixed wireless.)
ERIC joins a growing chorus of stakeholders that have expressed concerns about gigabit fixed wireless, arguing that it is an unproven technology that will not meet service requirements in some of the rural areas for which bidders won funding. Equipment manufacturers and the Wireless Internet Service Providers Association dispute those claims.
ERIC’s RDOF concerns don’t stop with fixed wireless providers. The coalition also wants to review information for SpaceX, Charter and Frontier – three more companies that were on the top 10 list.
It’s not surprising to see ERIC concerns about SpaceX. Other stakeholders also have questioned whether SpaceX will be able to deliver the 100 Mbps speeds to which it committed and to the number of customers the company would potentially have to serve.
The most surprising names on the list of winning bidders whose information ERIC wants to review are Charter and, to a lesser extent, Frontier.
According to ERIC, both Frontier and Charter “have bid and won areas, possibly with the intent to protect territory and hold competition at bay, perhaps viewing the payment of default penalties several years from now as a fair price to pay for warding off competition and keeping other providers from gaining access to serve areas in need.”
The filing also notes that Frontier is in Chapter 11 bankruptcy, “bringing into question its financial viability to deliver on its commitments.”
What ERIC is Asking For
ERIC proposes to allow “interested stakeholders” the opportunity to review the long-form information under a protective order.
“ERIC and its members would agree to any and all access restrictions deemed appropriate pursuant to commission precedent, including restricting access to certain types of commercially sensitive and proprietary information to third-party consultants, engineers and counsel,” the filing notes.
The review process would “help the commission identify many instances of fraud or misrepresentation underlying the . . . bidding and take appropriate corrective measures,” the filing states.