At least two rural service provider groups have voiced opposition to the FCC’s decision to add a new 50/5 Mbps speed tier to the bidding categories for the proposed Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF). Both NTCA – The Rural Broadband Association and the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA) argue that adding the new speed tier creates two speed tiers that are below the average broadband speed already experienced in urban areas.

The FCC is scheduled to vote next week on whether to adopt the RDOF order.

RDOF Speed Tier Issues
A draft of the RDOF order originally circulated within the FCC several months ago had three speed tiers, which would be used for a weighting system designed to favor bids to provide service at higher speeds.

But when the FCC made a new draft public earlier this month, a fourth 50/5 Mbps speed tier had been added.

On a call with reporters today, NRECA Board President and CEO of Roanoke Electric Cooperative Curtis Wynn noted that when his company recently began offering high-speed broadband, the lowest speed tier was 50 Mbps but 66% of customers “voluntarily elected a higher tier.” Roanoke Electric Cooperative’s highest speed offering is 250 Mbps.

Jim Matheson, CEO of NRECA, noted on today’s call that proposed rules for the RDOF auction should help to mitigate the impact of having two lower-speed tiers. Those rules call for the highest-speed bid in an area to be chosen at the clearing round.

NTCA also has noted that the clearing round provision should help mitigate the impact of adding the 50/5 Mbps tier and has urged the FCC to ensure that the provision remains in the RDOF order.

The decision to include a 50/5 Mbps tier for the RDOF auction apparently was triggered by a recommendation from USTelecom – The Broadband Association. That organization represents urban and rural service providers, including the nation’s largest price cap carriers, and has argued that more locations could receive service as a result of the RDOF program if somewhat lower speeds were deployed.

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