Rural Barn

The FCC today said it is ready to authorize $311 million in rural broadband funding to 48 companies that had winning bids in the RDOF (Rural Digital Opportunity Fund) auction. Also today, the commission released a list of RDOF defaults that includes some of Charter’s winning bids, along with those of several dozen other winning bidders.

The $311 million in RDOF funding that the FCC is getting set to authorize is a small fraction of the $9.2 billion in winning bids from the auction, in which the top 10 winning bidders were tentatively awarded about three-quarters of the funding.

On the list of companies that the FCC is ready to approve are Consolidated Communications, Cincinnati Bell, Cox and numerous small broadband providers, including telcos and competitive carriers. Final release of funds is contingent on companies submitting required letters of credit and bankruptcy opinion letters. Companies on the “ready to approve” list have until August 9 to submit that documentation to the FCC.

Most of the largest winning bidders are still waiting to hear whether the FCC is ready to approve their funding, and two of them will not be getting the full funding they were tentatively awarded as the result of other actions taken by the FCC today.

According to the FCC, Charter—which was one of the largest winning bidders–has said it does not plan to pursue some of its RDOF buildouts in five states. The company is just one of several dozen that have said they have chosen not to pursue buildouts.

The RDOF defaults “will be subject to enforcement penalties as warranted,” the FCC said in a press release, and the associated areas “will immediately become available for other broadband funding opportunities.”

Meanwhile, the largest winning bidder in the RDOF auction, LTD Broadband, will not be getting funding that the company tentatively won in California, Oklahoma and Kansas because, according to the FCC, the company failed to “act in a timely way” to seek required eligible telecommunications carrier (ETC) certifications in those states.

The company’s status in other states for which it won funding is still unclear. A range of entities have expressed concern about whether LTD Broadband has sufficient resources to meet its buildout commitments.

Potentially Ineligible Locations

The FCC also is getting set to crack down on companies that won funding for areas that should not have been included in the RDOF auction, which was designed to award funding to areas lacking broadband service to cover some of the costs of bringing broadband to those areas.

“In light of complaints that the program was poised to fund broadband to parking lots and well-served urban areas,” the FCC said it sent letters to 197 winning bidders offering the providers “an opportunity to withdraw their funding requests from those places already with service or where significant questions of waste have been raised.”

Among those receiving these letters were several of the largest winning bidders, including LTD Broadband, Charter, SpaceX, NextLink (AMG), Windstream, Frontier and CenturyLink, as well as numerous smaller providers. While some of the letters involve only a few census block groups, others go on for dozens of pages, indicating census blocks where the FCC has heard concerns expressed.

For example, SpaceX’s list includes census block groups in at least 33 states and LTD Broadband’s list includes locations in at least 13 states.

“It is your responsibility to conduct due diligence to ensure that you can meet the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund public interest obligations,” the FCC said in the letters.

Recipients are directed to “promptly” advise the commission of any bids they do not plan to pursue and to provide a brief explanation about the RDOF default decision.

“We will entertain requests for waiver of the penalties normally associated with defaults,” the letter says. “To maximize your likelihood of success under this standard, we recommend that your waiver request include a showing that defaulting on these bids will serve the public interest by, for example, targeting scarce Universal Service funds to where they are needed most.”

A complete list of companies on the ready to authorize list is available at this link.

The RDOF defaults list is available here.

A list of companies that received letters about areas in question can be found here, along with the letters.

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