Could Amnesty Program for Over-Zealous RDOF Winners help rural Minnesota?

Telecompetitor has an idea for RDOF

As more and more stakeholders express concern that some RDOF (Rural Digital Opportunity Fund) winners will not be able to deploy rural broadband meeting the service parameters to which they committed, one stakeholder has an interesting idea for what to do about this. Perhaps an RDOF amnesty program would be appropriate, suggested Jonathan Chambers, a partner with Conexon, on a recent phone interview with Telecompetitor.

One of the providers under the spotlight is in line to receive funding to serve a big portion of Minnesota

Chambers is one of several stakeholders that have singled out LTD Broadband, which won the most funding — $1.3 billion — in the auction, as a company that won funding to serve considerably more locations than it already serves. Traditionally the company has offered fixed wireless and fiber but bid to deploy gigabit-speed fiber for its RDOF buildouts.

Telecompetitor talked to LTD Broadband CEO Corey Hauer in late December, who said, “We have a history of very rapid growth. We expect that to continue. We have met challenges of growth and scale as we’ve grown.”

One hiccup is that some providers bid to provide services they don’t usually provide…

Chambers said he has heard from auction participants that some participants that initially wanted to use gigabit fixed wireless for their auction bids were told they couldn’t bid to use fixed wireless at the gigabit speed tier. (The auction awarded funding to the company that committed to deploying broadband at the lowest level of support, but a weighting system favored bids to deploy gigabit service.)

It’s not clear why some companies allegedly were allowed to bid gigabit fixed wireless and others weren’t. One possibility is that different FCC staffers responded differently to bidders after reviewing their initial applications.

The upshot, according to Chambers, is that “you can already see there are companies that seem to be preparing for the great bait-and-switch.” He speculates that some companies that bid to deploy gigabit fiber will try to get the FCC to allow them to use fixed wireless instead.

Allowing providers to rethink their bids may save time for communities…

Chambers sees a possibility that the review process could change, considering the recent administration change. As things stand now, however, any funding pulled back from the provisional winner would likely roll into the Phase 2 RDOF auction, which won’t happen until the FCC completes its revamp of broadband availability data collection and analyzes that data, which could be a time-consuming process.

Chambers offered some interesting alternative ideas. One idea, he said, might be to offer RDOF amnesty to any auction bidder, which would give over-zealous bidders the option of bowing out gracefully without encountering penalties.

And perhaps the FCC wouldn’t have to wait until the Phase 2 auction to award the funding returned by those accepting amnesty. Perhaps the commission could conduct a separate auction for areas turned back, Chambers suggested.

A problem now is that communities are left in a wait-and-see limbo. They are told to trust the provider, until the provider doesn’t perform. It takes the patience required for waiting for a buffered video to download to a new level.

This entry was posted in FCC, Policy and tagged by Ann Treacy. Bookmark the permalink.

About Ann Treacy

Librarian who follows rural broadband in MN and good uses of new technology (blandinonbroadband.org), hosts a radio show on MN music (mostlyminnesota.com), supports people experiencing homelessness in Minnesota (elimstrongtowershelters.org) and helps with social justice issues through Women’s March MN.

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