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The FCC is seeking comment on requests for eligible telecommunications carrier (ETC) status for winning Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) bidders that don’t already have ETC status. Considering the controversy that some winning bids have generated, the commission is likely to receive some spirited comments.

The request for comment pertains specifically to 12 states that have given the FCC authority to determine ETC status. ETC status for other states is handled at the state level.

The RDOF program will pay some of the costs of deploying broadband to rural areas lacking broadband service. Funding was awarded through a reverse auction, with funding going to the company that committed to deploying service for the lowest level of support. A weighting system favored higher-speed, lower-latency bids.

Some of the controversial winning bidders that have requested ETC status for states handled by the FCC include SpaceX, Connect Everyone/ Starry, and Talkie Communications.

ETC Designation for RDOF

As the FCC explains in a public notice, ETC designation is a prerequisite to receiving universal service support available through the rural high-cost and Lifeline low-income programs. Companies were not required to obtain ETC designation until after provisionally winning funding through the RDOF auction.

To petition for ETC status, a company must:

  • certify that it offers or intends to offer all services designated by the FCC pursuant to section 254(c) of the Telecommunications Act
  • certify that it will comply with the service requirements applicable to the support received
  • demonstrate its ability to remain functional in emergency situations
  • demonstrate its ability to satisfy applicable consumer protection and service quality standards
  • certify that it offers or intends to offer the supported services either using its own facilities or a combination of its own facilities and resale of another carrier’s services
  • describe how it advertises the availability of the supported services and the charges for those services
  • provide a detailed description of the geographic service area for which it wants ETC designation
  • certify that neither the petitioner nor any party to the application is subject to a denial of federal benefits pursuant to the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988

Those opposing some of the winning bidders are likely to have a lot to say about some of the first items on the bullet list.

SpaceX, for example, won funding to provide service at speeds of 100 Mbps downstream using relatively unproven non-geostationary satellite technology, but critics have questioned whether the company will have the capacity to service all the locations for which the company had winning bids.

SpaceX is seeking ETC status from the FCC for seven states, including Alabama, Connecticut, New Hampshire, New York, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia. The FCC has already heard opposition to any SpaceX ETC approval.

Talkie Communications is seeking ETC status for Maryland and Delaware for a fiber broadband build, but Choptank Electric Cooperative, which bid against the company in Maryland, doesn’t believe the company can economically build a fiber network in the area at the level of funding received.

Connect Everyone/ Starry is one of several companies that were allowed to bid to use fixed wireless technology to support gigabit speeds, even though the technology is relatively unproven in rural areas at those speeds. The company is seeking ETC status from the FCC for Alabama and Virginia.

Some other companies that bid to deploy gigabit fixed wireless either have ETC designation already in the states for which they had winning bids or have applied for ETC status at the state level.

Interested parties have until April 7 to file comments with the FCC about the ETC status requests from companies with winning RDOF bids.

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