The FCC is seeking comment on bidding procedures for the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) auction, which will award funding for rural broadband. The first of two auction phases would have a budget of $16 billion and is expected to start in October. The RDOF auction procedures call for a reverse auction, with funding going to the provider that offers to deliver service at the lowest level of support.
The procedures are designed to favor bids for higher-speed, lower-latency service through a weighting system similar to the one used in the Connect America Fund II auction.
The RDOF bidding procedures would further favor bids to provide higher-performance service through a new procedure that wasn’t used in CAF II. The winning bid would be selected at the clearing round, with funding going to the bidder committing to deliver the highest-performance service for an area. The clearing round is the auction round at which the total of bids meets the target budget for the auction.
The goal of the new procedure would be to encourage the deployment of sustainable networks, said FCC officials at Friday’s monthly FCC meeting, where the public notice proposing the auction procedures was adopted.
According to an FCC press release, as many as six million unserved homes and businesses could gain broadband through the RDOF Phase 1 auction.
RDOF Auction Procedures
Certain aspects of the proposed RDOF auction procedures drew fire from FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, who argued against a rule that would prevent network operators from bidding for an area awarded funding through a state broadband program.
Noting that as many as 30 states have broadband programs, Rosenworcel said, “That’s craziness.”
She added that “We should be encouraging states to work with us, not penalizing them for their efforts to bring broadband to communities that are struggling. We have this exactly backwards.”
Rosenworcel also reiterated concerns she previously expressed about the inaccuracy of FCC broadband availability data and its impact on RDOF auction plans. Previously, she suggested that the FCC should have a procedure for people in areas left out of the Phase 1 auction to submit documentation showing that their areas lack service so that they can be included in that auction.
At Friday’s meeting, she took her argument further.
“Thirteen days before the election, the FCC will start the largest program for federal broadband funding in our nation’s history,” she said. “But this Rural Digital Opportunity Fund looks more like publicity stunt than policy. That’s because we are spending billions of dollars without the facts we need.”
Another proposed RDOF auction procedure that had received criticism was one preventing satellite broadband providers from bidding to offer lower-latency service. SpaceX, which is deploying broadband satellites that operate at lower altitudes in comparison with traditional communications satellites, had argued that its satellites have lower latency than traditional higher-altitude satellites.
Comments from FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly at Friday’s meeting were somewhat ambiguous but could mean that the FCC may have acquiesced to SpaceX’s concerns.
“Although the auction bias towards certain technologies over others appears to be a foregone conclusion, I appreciate the addition of clarifying language to the draft to soften the commission’s prejudice in this regard,” O’Rielly said.