A broad coalition of Republican and Democratic senators and representatives have sent a letter to the FCC asking the commission to thoroughly vet RDOF auction winners. At stake is $9 billion in rural broadband funding awarded through the reverse auction, which was completed last year.
The letter was championed by Senators Amy Klobuchar and John Thune, as well as Representatives James E. Clyburn and Tim Walberg. Also signing the letter were an additional 153 senators and representatives.
Service providers were required to submit a short-form application in order to participate in the auction, which awarded funding for an area to the bidder that committed to deploying broadband to unserved locations in the area for the lowest level of support. A weighting system favored bids to provider faster service with lower latency.
Senator Smith and Senator Klobuchar both signed the letter. Here’s the paragraph (from the letter) that highlights their concern…
As responsible stewards of USF funds, we ask that the FCC redouble its efforts to review the long-form applications that will now be submitted. We urge the FCC to validate that each provider in fact has the technical, financial, managerial, operational skills, capabilities, and resources to deliver the services that they have pledged for every American they plan to serve regardless of the technology they use. We also strongly encourage the FCC to make as public as possible the status of its review and consider opportunities for public input on the applications. Such transparency and accountability will be essential to ensure the success of this program and to minimize any opportunities for fraud or abuse.
I have written about some of the concern about RDOF in Minnesota. And just earlier today I wrote about how many providers do not seem to be meeting their obligations in deploying broadband with federal CAFII funding. Here concerns outlined by Telecompetitor…
As Telecompetitor has noted, the 10 biggest RDOF winners won a combined 76% of the total funding awarded. Four of those winners are companies that traditionally have used fixed wireless technology who bid in the highest speed category (1 Gbps downstream), at least for some areas.
Fixed wireless equipment manufacturers persuaded the FCC that they had equipment capable of supporting gigabit speeds, although the technology is relatively unproven, especially for rural areas. Perhaps recognizing that, the big fixed wireless RDOF winners left themselves the option of deploying fiber broadband to meet their buildout requirements – one of them even bid to use fiber broadband exclusively for gigabit deployments. But some stakeholders have questioned whether some of the winners can afford to deploy gigabit fiber for the level of support awarded.
Also among the top 10 RDOF winners is satellite broadband provider SpaceX, whose technology also is relatively unproven. The company is in the process of deploying a constellation of non-geostationary satellites to support its bid in the second-highest speed category – 100 Mbps downstream.