Blandin Broadband Roundtable Roundup: Notes on Rural Development Opportunity Fund from May 5, 2020

From roundtable host, Bill Coleman…

The FCC’s Rural Development Opportunity Fund and the impact of the Frontier bankruptcy were the topics of the day yesterday on the first of a series of broadband roundtable discussions happening every Tuesday morning at 9 am CDT.  Everyone is welcome and you can find the Zoom registration link at broadband.blandinfoundation.org under the webinar heading.

The consensus of participants was that the RDOF reverse auctions will be critical to currently unserved areas broadband future.  The program rewards the deployment of high-speed, low-latency broadband networks which is great.

While the auction will be held this fall, prospective bidders must complete their short-form application soon.  This is a real opportunity for local units of government to plan with their preferred provider partners.  It is important to be listed on the provider’s short-form application due to bidding rules. A community’s best role might be to create a partnership to help providers deploy to the surrounding ineligible areas.

The eligible areas are a patchwork of geography.  The preliminary eligibility map can be found here: https://www.fcc.gov/reports-research/maps/auction-904-preliminary-eligible-areas.  The FCC initially declared areas eligible based on their maps using provider supplied data.  Incumbent providers were then able to challenge that eligibility, essentially challenging the data that they had already supplied to the FCC.   You can see a map of those challenged areas here:  https://www.cooperative-networks.com/rdof-challenge-map/ .  The community route to challenge these maps is unclear, possibly requiring outreach to federal elected officials.

You can find some excellent introductory materials about the RDOF process here: https://www.adtran.com/index.php/rdof

Our second discussion topic was about the Frontier bankruptcy.  This process is generally outside of state regulatory processes. It is possible that Frontier will emerge stronger out of bankruptcy with the removal of debt.  Frontier recently sold their exchanges in three states, so we discussed possible buyers here in Minnesota.  We also discussed the relative approaches of an entity purchasing existing Frontier assets and customer base as opposed to simply overbuilding in those areas.  It is possible that Frontier may acquire long-term subsidies via the RDOF process.

The roundtables are a great opportunity to bring both your knowledge and your questions to share with the Blandin team and other community broadband advocates.  We will start our next roundtable with a discussion of speed tests.

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