In an interesting twist, Frontier has said that it would like the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund, or RDOF, auction to include geographic areas whose eligibility the company previously challenged.
The first phase of the RDOF auction, scheduled to begin in late October, will award funding to cover some of the costs of bringing broadband to census blocks that have no availability of broadband at speeds of at least 25 Mbps downstream and 3 Mbps upstream.
The commission put out a preliminary list of eligible census blocks in March and received 180 challenges, including one from Frontier that said the carrier had deployed 25/3 Mbps service to at least some locations in each of 16,000 census blocks that were on the eligible list.
The list of eligible locations was based on information reported by service providers as of June 2019.
Several associations representing broadband service providers questioned how Frontier could have deployed service to so many census blocks since that date, considering that the company earlier this year said it would not meet deployment objectives for the Connect America Fund program, which awarded $283 million to the company back in 2015 for broadband deployments expected to be completed within six years.
Frontier RDOF Challenged Areas
In a letter to the FCC responding to the associations’ challenges, Frontier maintained that its challenge was accurate, but as Telecompetitor had suspected, the company acknowledged that, at least in some cases, it hadn’t built to all locations within a census block.
Regarding the challenges, Frontier argued in a letter to the FCC that “ultimately, these are complaints about the Commission’s decision to divide the RDOF into two phases and to include partially served census blocks in Phase II.
“In effect, these letters represent untimely petitions for reconsideration of the commission’s determination that only census blocks that are wholly unserved . . . are eligible for Phase 1 of RDOF.”
In a separate letter to the FCC, Frontier said that it made its challenges “consistent with FCC requirements” but added that the company “would welcome the inclusion into the RDOF auction of the challenged census blocks where Frontier provides service at speeds of 25/3 Mbps and greater.”
In the letter responding to specific challenges, Frontier reiterated that it would like the challenged areas included in the auction and offered its rationale – “so it can have an opportunity to obtain continued support to provide service to these high cost areas.”
Winning support for any such areas could be difficult for Frontier, however. The company is one of the nation’s largest incumbent local carriers regulated under the price cap system (along with AT&T, Verizon and others). The RDOF auction – like the previous Connect America Fund CAF II auction — focuses on areas to which these companies have not deployed 25/3 Mbps broadband. The price cap carriers had the opportunity to bid in the CAF II auction, but they won relatively little funding. Funding went to the service provider that committed to deploying service for the lowest level of support, and in some cases the price cap carriers may have sought more funding than competitors did.
It will be interesting, to say the least, to see how the FCC addresses the eligibility of areas in Frontier’s local service territory and in other areas that were challenged. The commission has said it will release a final list of census blocks eligible for the RDOF auction at least 14 days before the auction start date.