The Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) auction could have as many as 505 bidders, according to the FCC. The commission said today that it received complete applications from 121 entities and incomplete applications from 384 entities. Those who submitted incomplete applications have until September 23 to correct any deficiencies. RDOF auction bidders will contend for funding to cover some of the costs of bringing broadband to rural areas where it is not currently available.

The first phase RDOF auction, scheduled to begin in October, will award up to $16 billion, with a subsequent auction awarding an additional $4 billion.

RDOF Auction Bidders
Would-be bidders sometimes apply to participate in an auction under an unfamiliar name, making it difficult to compile a comprehensive list of major companies planning to participate. (story continues below)

Based on initial lists, however, companies that applied to bid include:

  • Large and mid-size publicly-held telcos including Consolidated Communications, CenturyLink, Cincinnati Bell, Frontier, Verizon and Windstream
  • Rural electric companies, including Rural Electric Cooperative Consortium
  • Mobile providers that also offer fixed wireless service including U.S. Cellular
  • Cable companies including Altice USA, Cox Communications, and Midcontinent Communications (Midco)
  • Satellite broadband providers Hughes Network Systems, Space Exploration Technologies (Space X) and Viasat
  • Numerous smaller providers, including rural telcos, wireless internet service providers (WISPs) and others

The Rural Electric Cooperative Consortium was one of the largest winners in the CAF II auction, a previous rural broadband funding auction. Like the CAF II auction, the RDOF auction will award funding to the entity that commits to deploying service at the lowest level of support, with a weighting system favoring bids to deploy higher-speed or lower-latency service.

Some of the other big winners in the CAF II auction were privately-held companies that at the time were unfamiliar names – and several of these companies are planning to bid again in the RDOF. These large winners included WISPs Nextlink, Benton Ridge Telephone Company/ Watch Communications, and Wisper ISP. Benton Ridge and Rural have applied to bid in the RDOF, as has an entity designated as Wisper-CABO 904 Consortium, which likely includes Wisper. We didn’t see Nextlink on the list, but the company may be bidding under a different name.

Viasat also was a large CAF II winner, but may find it more difficult to win bids in the RDOF auction because the weighting system has changed a bit to be more favorable to lower-latency services. Viasat and Hughes both operate geostationary satellites, which means that their services are relatively high-latency.

A new crop of satellite broadband providers plans to use non-geostationary satellites to minimize latency and, of these, SpaceX successfully lobbied the FCC to allow the company to bid to provide low-latency service.

Charter Communications also said previously that it planned to participate in the RDOF auction but if so it will be bidding under a different name, as we didn’t see it on either of the bidder lists.

A list of companies that submitted complete applications can be found at this link.

Entities that submitted incomplete applications are on this list.

Additional information can be found in this FCC public notice

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