Two associations representing rural broadband providers sent a letter to the FCC late last week to express concerns about a reported change of plans by Resound Networks, which was one of the largest winning bidders in the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) auction.
Resound plans to use a mixture of fixed wireless and fiber broadband to deploy service at speeds of at least 1 Gbps downstream and 500 Mbps upstream to bring service to unserved areas. And according to a news report, the company plans to rely more heavily on fixed wireless than originally intended.
“This apparent belated switch in plans after the auction has taken place presents significant concerns, highlighting once again both the lack of transparency in the auction process and questions surrounding accountability in the wake of the auction’s results,” wrote the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association and NTCA—The Rural Broadband Association in a letter to the FCC.
The RDOF auction tentatively awarded funding to deploy broadband to rural areas lacking service, with funding for an area going to the company that committed to deploying service for the lowest level of support. A weighting system favored bids to deliver higher-speed service. Resound was tentatively awarded $311 million in the auction to deploy gigabit-speed service.
When Telecompetitor talked to Resound Networks CEO Tyson Curtis back in December, he told us the company had been moving ahead with fixed wireless deployments in areas for which it won funding, even though funding had not yet been released to the company.
More recently, Curtis reportedly told media outlet Fierce Wireless that those deployments were going so well that the company plans to use fixed wireless for about 11,550 of 77,000 locations where the company originally planned to use fiber.
In the letter, NRECA and NTCA argue that fixed wireless coverage at the required speed cannot be determined without knowing propagation and line of sight, both of which vary greatly from one area to another.
“[C]areful scrutiny is warranted now, especially in a case like this where the winning bidder reportedly seeks to switch from a proven technology to one that is subject to a number of practical challenges,” the associations wrote.
The letter closes by saying: “In those cases where substantial questions persist or would-be providers decide to alter their applications in a material way, more careful scrutiny remains essential to ensure the most effective use of universal service resources and serve the interests of consumers in need.”