It’s been 18 months since the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) auction was completed and the FCC has not yet released funding for five of the top 10 winning bidders.
It’s beginning to look like that isn’t going to happen, considering that the other five top winning bidders have had all or most of their funding released, as have scores of smaller winners.
They look at the bidders, including LTD Broadband…
The fifth large winning bidder that hasn’t had funding released is LTD Broadband, a small company that traditionally deployed fixed wireless but that won funding for gigabit fiber broadband. Critics have questioned the company’s ability to meet its deployment commitments.
The FCC also has come under fire over RDOF, as critics have argued that the commission should have had more stringent screening in advance of the auction, rather than waiting for after the auction to review and approve companies’ long-form applications, a key step in funding authorization.
There are concerns and it sounds like one way around awarding or declining the bids is to leave them on the shelf…
“The FCC appears to have very significant questions” about the five bidders, said Blair Levin, policy analyst for New Street Research. While working at the FCC in 2009, Levin headed up the team that wrote the National Broadband Plan.
“It’s not that they lied or misrepresented themselves,” Levin continued. “But the commission doesn’t appear to have confidence that those enterprises will do what they said they would do.”
Carol Mattey, founder of Mattey Consulting, said several months ago that the FCC might never authorize certain winning bidders but wouldn’t reject them either because rejections could be appealed. Mattey was deputy chief of the FCC Wireline Competition Bureau at the time the RDOF auction was established.
There have been many complaints from communities in Minnesota who have been left in RDOF limbo, waiting to hear whether LTD gets the funds or not because in many instances, the fact that the may have RDOF money means they are disqualified for other funds. Apparently there’s no timeline on the RDOF awards but it sounds like there’s a push to try to change that…
Alan Davidson, who heads up NTIA, threw the FCC another curve ball regarding the BEAD program when he said that areas that had winning RDOF bids that have not been authorized should be eligible for BEAD funding. It would be up to the FCC to “deconflict” those areas, Davidson said.
If providers still haven’t received RDOF authorization by the time the BEAD program starts and if the areas involved are included in the BEAD program, potentially the providers could bid again and win, Levin notes. A provider’s ability to do this, of course, would depend on the specific rules for each state where a company had winning RDOF bids