Rural, Silos and trees

The FCC has authorized Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) money for six more companies. All six authorizations are for smaller companies, and the funding amounts authorized are comparatively small.

The RDOF program covers some of the costs of deploying broadband to unserved rural areas. Funding totaling $9.2 billion was tentatively awarded through a reverse auction. Winning bidders were those who committed to deploying service in an area for the lowest level of support.

After the auction was completed in late 2020, winning bidders were required to file long-form applications detailing plans for their funds. When the FCC has reviewed and approved a company’s long-form application, the company is put on a ready-to-authorize list and has about two weeks to submit a letter of credit and bankruptcy opinion letter, which the FCC also must review and approve before authorizing funding for the company.

There were over 400 winning bidders in the RDOF auction, but the top 10 winning bidders represent more than three-quarters of the total $9.2 billion tentatively awarded.

Over the last 18 months or so, the FCC has authorized funding for many smaller winning bidders and for five of the top 10 winning bidders. But the other five of the top 10 have not yet been deemed ready to authorize and questions have begun to arise about whether those other five will ever be authorized.

Several sources closely involved in the RDOF program have noted that the FCC has no deadline for reviewing RDOF long-form applications and might never approve some or any of those five bidders.

One of them is SpaceX, which plans to use satellite broadband to meet its service commitments. Concerns have arisen about the company’s ability to meet those commitments and about the longevity of that service. Another is LTD Broadband, which has received criticism about its ability to deploy fiber broadband as quickly and extensively as required.

Three of the other top five winning bidders that are still waiting to hear from the FCC plan to use a combination of fixed wireless and fiber broadband to support gigabit service. Concerns have been raised about whether fixed wireless can reliably support gigabit service, and it isn’t clear if the FCC is still evaluating the technology or if it is simply stonewalling those companies.

The six companies receiving RDOF authorizations today are:

  • Cebridge Telecom (Louisiana and Kentucky)
  • Cogeco (Virginia)
  • Megawatt Communications (Tennessee)
  • Miles Communications (Iowa)
  • North Texas Fiber (Texas)
  • TCA Communications (Arkansas)

Additional details can be found on this FCC RDOF authorizations list.

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