More than a year and a half after the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) auction was completed, the FCC said today that it is ready to authorize funding for two of the top 10 winning bidders in the auction. Both companies — Nextlink and Starry – plan to use a mixture of fixed wireless and fiber broadband to provide gigabit service.
In addition, the FCC said it was ready to authorize funding for several smaller bidders. The bids on today’s ready-to-authorize list total $791.6 million. (After a company is deemed ready-to-authorize, it has about two weeks to submit a bankruptcy letter and a letter of credit, which the FCC must then review and approve before the company can receive final authorization.)
Nextlink’s winning bids comprise 92 of the 138-page ready-to-authorize list released today. Telecompetitor reached Nextlink Chief Strategy Officer Claude Aiken shortly after the list was released and he told us that, although the company had not yet had time to review the list in detail, he said he believes all the company’s winning bids are on the list.
The same isn’t true for Starry, which had a few bids deemed to be in default. The company did not immediately respond to an inquiry from Telecompetitor about whether all its other bids were on the ready-to-authorize list, but gauging by page count, it appears that the majority of them are ready-to-authorize.
Nextlink and Starry are two of the three top 10 winning bidders that had been waiting to hear on their RDOF bids. Five of the top 10 bidders have already had the majority of their funding authorized and two – LTD Broadband and SpaceX – have had their bids rejected.
The top 10 bidder that is still waiting to hear something is Resound Networks which, like Nextlink and Starry, plans to use fixed wireless for gigabit deployments.
Nextlink’s winning bids total $429 million, while Resound’s total $311 million and Starry’s total $269 million.
The Unlicensed Fixed Wireless Conundrum
The FCC faced a big decision in approving companies to use fixed wireless to deliver gigabit service, as naysayers questioned the technology’s ability to meet those speeds. (Nextlink and Resound have staunchly defended the technology’s capabilities.)
In addition, NTIA threw the FCC a curve ball when it established rules for areas that would be eligible for rural broadband funding in the BEAD program, whose $42.5 billion budget considerably exceeds the $9.2 billion tentatively awarded in the RDOF program. According to the NTIA rules, if the only broadband service exceeding speeds of 25/3 Mbps in an area is from a fixed wireless provider that uses unlicensed spectrum, the area will be eligible for funding.
Nextlink plans to rely heavily on fiber broadband and licensed fixed wireless for its RDOF deployments but plans to use unlicensed spectrum in some areas. And if indeed the FCC authorizes funding for the unlicensed areas, that means those areas could be eligible for BEAD funding not long after the RDOF build is completed – an ironic situation if indeed residents are getting gigabit-speed service at that time.
Perhaps the FCC is hoping NTIA will reconsider its definition of eligible areas – if not now, then perhaps in response to public outcry that may occur when the time comes for the NTIA to release its eligible areas list.
The list of bids that the FCC is ready to authorize can be found at this link. Nextlink bid as AMG and Starry bid as Connect Everyone.
The latest bids deemed to be in default can be found here.
A public notice with additional information is available here.
Update: Nextlink issued a press release stating that the FCC action on the company’s RDOF bid was for $429 million, which is the full amount of the company’s winning bids.