The FCC announced yesterday that it has approved eligible telecommunications carrier (ETC) designation for 56 companies that had winning bids in the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) auction. ETC designation is a requirement for participation in the RDOF program.
Among those receiving the ETC designation were rural electric cooperatives, along with rural telecom and cable providers, most of whom are slated to receive relatively small amounts of funding in the RDOF program. Some of the largest winning bidders seeking ETC status from the FCC — including Connect Everyone/Starry, SpaceX and CCO Holdings/Charter Communications — are not on the approved list, at least not yet.
In the public notice about the ETC designations, the FCC noted that some petitions for ETC status are still pending.
ETC designation is awarded on a state-by-state basis and some states take responsibility for ETC approvals. Other states shift that responsibility to the FCC.
The 56 newly approved companies received ETC status for states in which the FCC is responsible for ETC approval.
The RDOF program tentatively awarded over $9 billion to cover some of the costs of making broadband available in unserved rural areas. Winning bidders were those requesting the lowest level of support for an area, with a weighting system favoring higher-speed and lower-latency bids.
In the public notice announcing the 56 companies, the FCC notes that only one of those companies had comments filed in opposition to its petition for ETC status – and that company received only one such comment.
This revelation suggests that at least some of the ETC petitions may not have been approved yet because the FCC is still reviewing comments filed in opposition to the petitions.
When the FCC received a batch of ETC petitions for RDOF winning bidders earlier this year and requested comment on them, Telecompetitor speculated that the commission would receive an earful on some of the more controversial petitions.
For example, some stakeholders have expressed concern about whether SpaceX will have sufficient capacity in its low-earth orbit Starlink satellite constellation to meet RDOF service requirements. Others have expressed concern about companies such as Starry that were allowed to bid to use fixed wireless to support gigabit speeds, an option critics say is unproven in rural areas.
The initial RDOF schedule required winning bidders to have ETC status by this week in order to remain in the running to receive final approval on their bids. But a source familiar with details about the RDOF program who asked not to be named said that deadline has been extended for some states, including those for which the FCC handles ETC designation.
A complete list of the 56 companies with RDOF winning bids that have received ETC designation from the FCC can be found in this public notice.