The Coalition of RDOF Winners has filed an emergency petition with the FCC regarding their request for extra funding or other relief measures. The group argues that the COVID pandemic has raised deployment costs dramatically and that the funding they won is now insufficient.
The Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) auction awarded funding to cover some of the costs of deployments to unserved and underserved areas, with funding for an area going to the company that committed to deployments for the lowest level of government support.
The emergency petition requests “certain or all” of the same types of relief that the coalition previously requested in a letter to FCC Chair Jessica Rosenworcel. Possible relief recommended include:
- Supplementary funding to RDOF winners that have made an affirmative request for such funding
- Relief from all or certain aspects of letter of credit requirements on an expedited basis
- RDOF payments for years 7-10 made accessible by RDOF winners in years 2 or 3-6
- A short amnesty period to allow RDOF winners to relinquish all or part of their RDOF winning areas without forfeiture or penalties
Some of the arguments made by the coalition in the letter:
- The FCC has $14.3 billion of the RDOF budget remaining and could request that USAC raise additional funding to supplement RDOF winners’ initial winnings
- USDA has offered additional funding to companies that won funding in the ReConnect program as a result of increased deployment costs
- The commission has granted relief as a result of COVID in other contexts, for example, when a planned budget control mechanism for the high-cost program was postponed
- The cost model upon which the RDOF maximum bids was based could be recalculated based on today’s market conditions to gauge how much costs have increased, and the result could be used to calculate relief funding
- An amnesty window could make sense, not only for providers whose costs have increased dramatically, but could also help providers that won funding for areas that have since been overbuilt by companies receiving funding through other government programs
In filing an emergency petition, the coalition asks the FCC to “act immediately” on the requests made.
At least one industry organization has voiced opposition to what the Coalition of RDOF Winners is requesting. WTA– Advocates for Rural Broadband sent a letter to the FCC urging the commission not to offer any of the relief that the coalition is seeking. The association argued that bidders were responsible for considering the impact of future cost increases when they made their bids and that for the FCC to offer relief to coalition members would be unfair to others that bid in the RDOF auction.