Broadband wireless provider Rise Broadband issued a press release today noting that it had expanded its network in 10 market areas in conjunction with the FCC’s Connect America Fund (CAF) program. Rise apparently is referring to new buildouts supported, at least in part, by the funding that the company received through the rural broadband experiment (RBE) program, part of the overall CAF program for broadband expansion in rural markets.
RBE was a one-time $100 million element of the CAF program that was designed to bring broadband to unserved areas but also to gain market information to help in shaping the reverse auction planned for the CAF program.
CAF Program for Broadband Expansion
The RBE program awarded funding using a competitive bidding process. Rise was one of the service providers that bid to bring broadband to unserved portions of price cap carrier territories for a relatively low level of support – a lower level than the FCC initially offered the price cap carriers based on a cost model.
Rise won $16.9 million in this iteration of the CAF program for broadband expansion in Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska and Texas — and apparently is using the funding to deploy broadband wireless service using long-term evolution (LTE) technology supporting speeds up to 50 Mbps. Today’s press release details LTE buildouts in markets in the five states for which Rise won RBE funding.
Rise Broadband Ambitions
Rise Broadband co-founder Jeff Kohler told Telecompetitor last year that LTE was driving major improvements to broadband wireless economics and supports broadband speeds as high as 50 Mbps, with the possibility of higher speeds in the future. The company has deployed the technology, which it apparently markets as “enhanced” service, in 40 markets, according to the press release.
Today’s press release also noted that Rise will deliver both voice and broadband service in the CAF-funded markets. That’s a requirement of the CAF program that potentially could pave the way for the incumbent price cap carriers to withdraw from RBE markets – and ultimately from any markets where the incumbent rejected CAF funding, which instead is slotted to be awarded through a competitive bidding process.
Although we haven’t seen any withdrawals yet, that would seem to be a strong possibility, considering that incumbents will be left offering only voice and possibly low-speed DSL in competition with higher-speed broadband and voice offerings.
In last year’s interview, Kohler told us that Rise was likely to bid in the CAF reverse auction. If so, the company appears well positioned to win some of those bids. The future of the auction is in question, however, now that several states have asked the FCC to let them award the unclaimed CAF money so that awards can be better coordinated with similar state-funded programs.