Two senators have sent a letter to FCC Acting Chair Jessica Rosenworcel questioning why the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) long-form application review process is taking so long and asking for details about why and how much longer it’s going to take.
“Months have passed since winners submitted their long-form applications, and the agency has remained almost entirely silent about the status of its review and plans to authorize money to winning bidders,” said Senator Roger Wicker, ranking member of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation and John Thune, ranking member of the Subcommittee on Communications, Media and Broadband.
The RDOF auction tentatively awarded $9.2 billion to over 300 bidders to deploy broadband to unserved rural areas. It was a reverse auction designed to award funding for an area to the company that committed to deploying service at the lowest level of support, with a weighting system favoring bids to deploy faster, lower-latency service.
The auction process has come under attack from multiple parties who argue that the bidders should have been more closely vetted before they were allowed to participate. Questions have arisen about some companies’ financial ability to complete the projects to which they committed. Some technologies that winning bidders plan to use, notably gigabit fixed wireless and low-earth orbit (LEO) satellite, also have come under attack.
Multiple parties have asked the FCC to thoroughly vet the long-form applications, and in their letter, Wicker and Thune said they “recognize the complexity of this process.”
They added, though, that “the FCC’s prolonged evaluation of long-form applications must become more transparent and efficient. Each day that the commission spends vetting long-form applications is another day that unserved Americans go without the high-speed broadband that is essential to everyday life.”
RDOF Application Review
The senators pose seven questions in their letter, asking Rosenworcel for answers by July 29.
- How many long-form applications have been reviewed by the FCC? How many have been approved and denied? If any have been denied, please describe why.
- How many FCC staff are participating in the long-form application review process?
- Does the FCC plan to review all long-form applications before authorizing any funding? If yes, please explain why.
- Are there any rules preventing the commission from authorizing funds on a rolling basis? If yes, please describe those rules. If no, please explain why funding hasn’t been released to those winners whose applications did not present cause for further investigation.
- What measures is the FCC taking to ensure transparency and accountability in its long-form application review? Please include the factors and metrics the agency is considering in reviewing long-form applications.
- When do you estimate the FCC will complete its review of all long-form applications and begin authorizing support?
- Will you commit to providing monthly updates to the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation on the status of the FCC’s review of the long-form applications?
The Wicker and Thune letter comes several weeks after one former FCC official noted that the commission has no binding deadline for completing the long-form RDOF application review process and speculated that the commission might simply sit on controversial applications because doing so would eliminate the possibility of the bidder appealing the decision.
If the FCC should reject some of the larger winning bids, that raises the question of what to do with the associated funding and territories. Potentially the funding could roll over into the Phase II RDOF auction, but that may not happen for over a year, as the commission is awaiting better broadband availability data. Another suggestion would be to conduct a follow-on Phase I auction to award funding for areas where original winning bidders are subsequently rejected.
4 thoughts on “Senators Ask FCC Why RDOF Application Review is Taking So Long”
Sorely missed is the fact that the RDOF census areas that are “sort of / kind of” awarded are effectively eliminated from other funding sources, such as NTIA, that has, by the way, a much more aggressive timeline to build. Nearly a decade under the FCC. How is that 25/3 connection going to hold up 2025? (think CAF 2.0) Does the FCC understand that by letting the application “die on the vine” also effectively does the exact opposite of the program’s intent? In many states, the Die-on-the-Vine, Pie-in-the-Sky RDOF providers basically blanketed the unserved areas. The state level has a far better grasp of areas of need, states want gig investment, and knowledge of the providers that are most apt to quickly bring gig service to market.
The impact of the delay is greatly undervalued. In actuality the entire construct of the RDOF program is fundamentally flawed. Awarding entire census blocks with a ten year window to construct has become a de facto monopoly grant similar to the problem’s origin in the first place. State level as well as federal level grants are shouldered aside for the duration and only perpetuate the digital divide as the awardees can continue to service the unserved low density areas only when they have built network to everyone else. By caving to the lobbying interests of the incumbents and cable associations the FCC has merely perpetuated the problem and made other solutions that are proven and effective more challenging. So far this has been a waste of time, effort, and I’m afraid in the end an awful waste of money.
ISPs will be awarded funds over the course of 10 years. They have a six year window to construct though, with targets to be hit every year after the first three. 100% to be completed within six years. 80% within five years. 60% within four years, and 40% within three years.
This nothing but a joke, then again what is new at the FCC. Whereas it all should be facilitated through each state who have a handle on what is going on and have their own system in place along with funding. So all funding should go through the states and with an open system for all parties to be involved in.