The FCC said today that it is ready to authorize over $709 million in Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) funding for 50 broadband providers. As a commission press release notes, the “bulk” of the RDOF funding will go to rural electric cooperatives.
Also on the list of companies that the commission is ready to authorize are Midcontinent Communications, better known as cable and broadband provider Midco; several rural telephone companies and others. The funding that the FCC is ready to authorize for Midco is for projects in Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota.
Companies on the new ready-to-authorize list have until November 30 to provide bankruptcy opinion letters and letters of credit to the FCC in order to have their authorization finalized.
RDOF Ready to Authorize
The RDOF program is designed to provide funding for high-cost rural areas lacking broadband service. Many electric cooperatives participated in the auction. Over $9 billion in funding was tentatively awarded late last year via a reverse auction in which winning bidders for an area were those that committed to deploying service for the lowest level of government support. A weighting system favored bids to provide faster, lower-latency service, and the majority of winning bids were for gigabit speeds.
After the auction was completed, winning bidders were required to submit long-form applications with more details about their projects and companies. The commission has been slowly reviewing those applications amid considerable controversy.
The top 10 winning RDOF bidders are slated to receive most of the funding and to date, most of them have not yet been deemed ready-to-authorize. An electric cooperative consortium was among the top 10 winners (by dollar amount).
Some of the big winning bidders have been criticized for plans to use cutting edge technologies such as low-earth orbit satellites and gigabit fixed wireless that haven’t been extensively used in rural areas. Concerns also have been expressed about whether some winning bidders have the resources to complete the deployments to which they committed.
Critics also say the long-form applications should have been required before the auction, rather than after.
Today’s FCC press release highlights efforts the commission has made to “clean up” the RDOF program, including sending letters to 197 applicants concerning areas whose eligibility for inclusion in the auction had been questioned. As a result, bidders have chosen not to pursue support for almost 5,000 census blocks, the FCC said.
The FCC also noted that it denied waivers for winning bidders it said didn’t make an appropriate effort to secure certain state approvals.
The commission said it is “conducting an exhaustive technical, financial and legal review of all winning bidders.”
A complete list of companies on the latest RDOF ready-to-approve list can be found at this link.