FCC announces latest RDOF round of winners including AMG Tech Investment in MN

The FCC announces the latest RDOF Winners

 

By this Public Notice, the Wireline Competition Bureau (WCB), in conjunction with the Office of Economics and Analytics (OEA), authorizes Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (Auction 904) support for the winning bids identified in Attachment A of this Public Notice. For each of the winning bids identified in Attachment A, we have reviewed the long-form application information, including the letter(s) of credit and Bankruptcy Code opinion letter(s) from the long-form applicant’s legal counsel. Based on the representations and certifications in the relevant long[1]form application, we authorize and obligate support for the winning bids listed in Attachment A.

There was one winner from Minnesota:

AMG Technology Investment Group, LLC
Census blocks: 384
Locations: 1,408
Total Award:  $3,736,316

South Dakota PUC closes the docket on LTD Broadband without giving ETC designation

KELO reports

State regulators have shut the door for what might be the final time on a company that has been seeking a federal subsidy to provide broadband service in many under-served areas of South Dakota.

The South Dakota Public Utilities Commission on Tuesday decided to close the docket on LTD Broadband. The Minnesota company has been seeking designation by the state commission as an eligible telecommunications carrier so that it could receive federal funding.

South Dakota Telecommunications Association has been fighting against granting the designation, arguing that LTD Broadband lacked the financial wherewithal to accomplish the project.

SDTA requested the closure. LTD Broadband wanted the commission to only suspend the docket.

The story is important in Minnesota because the Minnesota PUC is also looking at LTD Broadband’s  status as an eligible telecommunications carrier (ETC). The ETC designation is (or maybe was) important when LTD Broadband applied for larger amounts of federal (RDOF) funding because ETC was required by those receiving funding. LTD Broadband was awarded the opportunity to apply for the funds but as since been disqualified.

So one might ask why the ETC designation is still an issue. In South Dakota, they want to make sure that unresolved issues do not leave South Dakota in a precarious position in the future…

The state commission’s chairman, Chris Nelson, said Tuesday that the state commission had “bent over backwards” to allow LTD Broadband to make its case. “We’ve gone a long distance trying to make this thing work,” he said.

Nelson noted that the FCC staff has reached the same conclusion that the state commission had and said he doesn’t think the federal commission will overturn its staff’s decision. Nelson said he doesn’t want an unresolved issue of LTD Broadband’s eligibility to cloud future funding opportunities for other companies seeking to deliver broadband in South Dakota.

LTD Broadband responds to ILSR’s participation in PUC case

This is an ongoing saga that many of us are watching closely and some might want a little recap…

The Minnesota PUC decided to continue to move forward looking at revoking LTD Broadband’s ETC designation. (Background: LTD was awarded an opportunity to apply for$311 million in federal RDOF funding. They needed the ETC designation from the MN PUC to qualify; industry folks asked the MN PUC to rethink their designation because there were concerns about LTD being able to fulfill the contract. Last month, their application for RDOF was rejected.)

In early September, the PUC asked LTD to share their long form RDOF application. They also invited folks to send comments (by Sep 16) in advance of a prehearing conference call planned for Sep 20. Several folks did response including the Institute for Local Self Reliance.

Here’s LTD’s response to ILSR’s offer to act as proposed intervenor…

LTD Broadband, LLC (“LTD”) respectfully objects to the Motion to Intervene filed by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (“ILSR”) because ILSR has not met the standard set forth in Minn. R. 1400.6200. ILSR’s Motion does not make the showings required by that rule, and ILSR has also failed to demonstrate that its alleged interests will not be adequately represented by other parties to this proceeding such as the Minnesota Department of Commerce (“Department”) or the Office of the Attorney General—Residential Utilities Division (“OAG[1]RUD”). Under Minn. R. 1400.6200, subp. 1., a person who desires to intervene in a contested case proceeding must submit a petition that meets four requirements: the petition “[1] shall show how the petitioner’s legal rights, duties, or privileges may be determined or affected by the contested case; [2] shall show how the petitioner may be directly affected by the outcome or that petitioner’s participation is authorized by statute, rule, or court decision; [3] shall set forth the grounds and purposes for which intervention is sought; and [4] shall indicate petitioner’s statutory right to intervene if one should exist.” If the petition makes these showings, it should be granted “unless the judge finds that the petitioner’s interest is adequately represented by one or parties participating in the case.” Minn. R. 1400.6200, subp. 3. ILSR’s Motion fails to make the required showings.

The response is longer but continues in the same theme. This is the tactic that LTD Broadband took in the live meeting at the PUC earlier this year too. They focus on the formalities of the process rather than addressing the issues of the case.

Representative Dave Lislegard asks MN PUC to revoke LTD Broadband’s ETC designation

I’ve been tracking what’s happening with MN PUC looking into revoking LTD Broadband’s expanded ETC designation (get background). The latest development is that Representative Dave Lislegard sent a letter to the MN PUC…

I’m writing to encourage the Public Utilities Commission to revoke LTD Broadband’s expanded ETC designation and to expedite the proceeding.

Update on MN PUC looking to revoke ETC designation for LTD Broadband – ILSR proposed intervenor

A brief update on an online Minnesota broadband saga.

The Minnesota PUC decided to continue to move forward looking at revoking LTD Broadband’s ETC designation. (Background: LTD was awarded an opportunity to apply for$311 million in federal RDOF funding. They needed the ETC designation from the MN PUC to qualify; industry folks asked the MN PUC to rethink their designation because there were concerns about LTD being able to fulfill the contract. Last month, their application for RDOF was rejected.)

In early September, the PUC asked LTD to share their long form RDOF application. They also invited folks to send comments (by Sep 16) in advance of a prehearing conference call planned for Sep 20.

The Institute for Local Self Reliance responded as a proposed intervenor

  1. The applicant, Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR) is a research and advocacy nonprofit organization with offices in Minnesota, focused on building an American economy driven by local priorities. ILSR works with a diverse group of allies, partners, and local communities on policies to improve local Internet access. ILSR represents the interests of local communities that are not necessarily represented by any other part in the proceeding and has a statutory right to intervene pursuant to Minn. R. 1400.6200 (2021).

  2. ILSR can provide facts and insight as well as extensive contextual information related to broadband access, funding, and deployment in Minnesota.

  3. We recognize the petition against LTD Broadband’s expansion in Minnesota as an opportunity to advocate for the public interest and ensure that valuable public dollars are spent in a way that will bring quality, affordable connectivity to communities as soon as possible. The applicant hereby requests it be allowed to intervene as a party in the above-captioned proceeding.

FCC announce latest round of RDOF winners – none in Minnesota

The FCC reports…

By this Public Notice, the Wireline Competition Bureau (WCB), in conjunction with the Rural
Broadband Auctions Task Force (RBATF) and the Office of Economics and Analytics (OEA), authorizes
Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (Auction 904) support for the winning bids identified in Attachment A of
this Public Notice.
For each of the winning bids identified in Attachment A, we have reviewed the long-form
application information, including the letter(s) of credit and Bankruptcy Code opinion letter(s) from the
long-form applicant’s legal counsel. Based on the representations and certifications in the relevant longform application, we authorize and obligate support for the winning bids listed in Attachment A.
We will also soon post a state-level summary under the “Results” tab on the Auction 904
webpage at https://www.fcc.gov/auction/904/round-results.1
The summary will provide for each longform applicant included in this Public Notice: 1) the total support amount over 10 years and total number
of locations that the long-form applicant is being authorized for in each state, 2) the total number of
locations to which the authorized support recipient must offer the required voice and broadband services
for each performance tier and latency in each state, and 3) the eligible census blocks included in the
winning bids that are being authorized in each state.

Starlink appeals FCC rejection of RDOF applications

Fierce Telecom reports…

SpaceX subsidiary Starlink asked the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to reconsider a decision to deny it $885.5 million in rural broadband funding, arguing the decision handed down in August was “flawed as a matter of both law and policy.”

The company filed what is known as an Application for Review with the Commission. Such applications are essentially appeals from an aggrieved party which ask the FCC to revisit actions taken on the grounds that they conflict with established statutes, regulations, precedent or policy or rely on a policy or precedent that should be changed or overturned.

Last month, the FCC rejected Starlink’s winning bids for $885.5 million in broadband subsidies from the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) auction, which were intended to help it connect more than 640,000 unserved locations in 35 states. At the time, the FCC cited Ookla data which showed Starlink’s broadband speeds were below the service benchmark set for its subsidies.

In its filing, however, Starlink claimed the FCC’s decision “rests on unsupported conjecture and outside-the-record information apparently cherry-picked from somewhere on the Internet.” It also accused the FCC of making the decision “in service to a clear bias towards fiber, rather than a merits-based decision to actually connect unserved Americans.”

What’s wrong with reverse auctions? Ask Doug Dawson

Earlier this week Doug Dawson looked at implications of doing another RDOF auction and then succinctly detailed the reasons not to go down that road. To me it’s a matter of fixing up the house like you’re going to sell it or live in it? DO you go cheap and cheerful or built to last? Doug gives more detail…

But there are larger questions involved in having another reverse auction. The big problem with the RDOF reverse auction was not just that the FCC didn’t screen applicants first, as Carr and others have been suggesting. The fact is that a reverse auction is a dreadful mechanism for awarding broadband grant money. A reverse auction is always going to favor lower-cost technologies like fixed wireless over fiber – it’s almost impossible to weight different technologies for an auction in a neutral way. It doesn’t seem like a smart policy to give federal subsidies to technologies with a 10-year life versus funding infrastructure that might last a century.

Reverse auctions also take state and local governments out of the picture. The upcoming BEAD funding has stirred hundred of communities to get involved in the process of seeking faster broadband. I think it’s clear that communities care about which ISP will become the new monopoly broadband provider in rural areas. If the FCC has a strict screening process up front, then future RDOF funding will only go to ISPs blessed by the FCC – and that probably means the big ISPs. I would guess that the only folks possibly lobbying for a new round of RDOF are companies like Charter and the big telcos.

The mechanism of awarding grants by Census block created a disaster in numerous counties where RDOF was awarded in what is best described as swiss cheese serving areas. The helter-skelter nature of the RDOF coverage areas makes it harder for anybody else to put together a coherent business plan to serve the rest of the surrounding rural areas. In contrast, states have been doing broadband grants the right way by awarding money to coherent and contiguous serving areas that make sense for ISPs instead of the absolute mess created by the FCC.

A reverse auction also relies on having completely accurate broadband maps – and until the FCC makes ISPs report real speeds instead of marketing speeds, the maps are going to continue to be fantasy in a lot of places.

Finally, the reverse auction is a lazy technique that allows the FCC to hand out money without having to put in the hard effort to make sure that each award makes sense. Doing grants the right way requires people and processes that the FCC doesn’t have. But we now have a broadband office and staff in every state thanks to the BEAD funding. If the FCC is going to give out more rural broadband funding, it ought to run the money through the same state broadband offices that are handling the BEAD grants. These folks know local conditions and know the local ISPs. The FCC could set overall rules about how the funds can be used, but it should let the states pick grant winners based upon demonstrated need and a viable business plan.

Update on MN PUC looking into LTD Broadband – movements forward

Last week, I mentioned that the Minnesota PUC decided to continue to move forward looking at revoking LTD Broadband’s ETC designation. (Background: LTD was awarded an opportunity to apply for$311 million in federal RDOF funding. They needed the ETC designation from the MN PUC to qualify; industry folks asked the MN PUC to rethink their designation because there were concerns about LTD being able to fulfill the contract. Last month, their application for RDOF was rejected.)

Last week, the PUC asked LTD to share their long form RDOF application. They also invited folks to send comments (by Sep 16) in advance of a prehearing conference call planned for Sep 20. So afar a Lawyer from Moss and Barnett sent a– Nondisclosure Agreement – Trade Secret Information for Richard J. Johnson relating to the Protective Order issued September 1, 2022 and enclosed a Certificate of Service. The document highlights the folks who will have access to the long form application.

Not much news but it looks like there is movement forward.

Update on LTD Broadband hearings at MN PUC – next meeting scheduled for September 10

In July, the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) held a hearing to decide whether or not to look into revoking LTD Broadband’s ETC designation. The designation was important because their ability to receive a large amount ($311 million) was in part dependent on having the designation. They decided to move forward. In August, the FCC rejected LTD’s application for the federal funds based on numerous reasons. So the big question was whether the PUC would continue on with its investigation or not. They did.

 

August 24, the PUC heard from interested parties and have decide to ask for materials from LTD, give folks an opportunity to respond and to meet again (via phone) on September 20…

  1. LTD shall serve and file the long-form application, related correspondence, and attachments by August 26, 2022.
  2. Parties wishing to intervene in this proceeding must file their requests by 4:30 p.m. on September 16, 2022.
  3. A prehearing conference will be held by telephone on September 20, 2022, at 2:30 p.m. to review the status of the case, define the issues and set the dates for hearing. At that time, please call 1-866-705-2554 and when prompted enter passcode 406954.
    Dated: September 1, 202

FCC fines providers for RDOF defaults including $2.3M to LTD for defaults in KS and OK

Fierce Telecom reports

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is cracking down on operators who have backed out of their Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) commitments, fining 73 auction participants a total of $4.3 million for defaulting on their winning bids. One operator, LTD Broadband, alone accounted for more than half of the overall assessment.

In an order released late last week, the FCC slapped LTD Broadband with a $2.3 million fine for defaulting on 768 census block groups in Kansas and Oklahoma. The FCC last year denied the company’s request for more time to prove its eligibility to receive funding in those states.

Cook might benefit from FCC rejection of LTD RDOF application

The Timberjay reports on the FCC rejection of LTD Broadband’s application for RDOF money…

The Federal Communications Commission last week rejected troubled LTD Communication’s $1.3 billion application to build high-speed broadband internet networks in Minnesota and across the nation, a move that should open the door for other companies to provide more timely broadband solutions across a wide swath of the North Country.

I’ve written about this rejection earlier and plenty of local media have covered it so I won’t recap the general information but here’s the local impact…

An example of a North Country location that could benefit from new funding opportunities is Cook. Installation of a state-assisted broadband network by Paul Bunyan Communications for the community may get underway in the next few weeks, but the company had to remove some locations from its plans because they fell just inside of federal tracts awarded to LTD. Given that the news is fresh, Paul Bunyan officials have yet to issue any formal statements about future possibilities for LTD-forfeited tracts, and no such plan for Cook is known to be in the works. But new options are now available for numerous Minnesota communities now that they are no longer blocked from them by LTD.

Mainstream (MN) look at FCC’s rejection of LTD Broadband and Starlink RDOF applications

Yesterday, the FCC announced their rejection of LTD Broadband and Starlink RDOF applications.

A recap at the highest level: LTD Broadband and Starlink qualified for the opportunity to get millions of dollars in federal contracts for broadband. There were questions about their ability to deploy these networks. The communities where they might have deployed networks have been unable to some other funding because of this deal. They have been frustrated for a year and a half. The FCC rejection of these providers means a loss of funding (hundreds of millions) coming to Minnesota BUT it also means these communities are free to find other opportunities.

Mainstreet media in Minnesota has been following the story, that in fairness includes some seriously wonky details. Here are what some of those sources are saying today:

  • MinnPost: In an email to MinnPost, Corey Hauer, the CEO of LTD, said company officials are “extremely disappointed in the FCC staff decision.”
    “I don’t believe the FCC fully appreciated the benefits LTD Broadband would bring to hundreds of thousands of rural Americans,” Hauer said. “We are continuing to review the letter and are evaluating our next steps.”
    FCC spokeswoman Anne Veigle said LTD can file a petition for reconsideration or an “application for review to appeal.”
  • Star Tribune: The FCC’s ruling on LTD is “a big deal,” said Brent Christensen, president of the Minnesota Telecom Alliance.
    “This is all uncharted territory,” Christensen said. “A lot of us don’t know what is going to happen.”
    An FCC spokesman said the locations for LTD’s winning bids will be eligible for other state and federal rural broadband funding programs. The federal government is expected to conduct other subsidy auctions.
  • Rueters: The FCC noted that Starlink, a fast-growing constellation of internet-beaming satellites, relies on nascent low-earth orbit satellite technology and had sought funding to provide 100/20 Mbps service to 642,925 locations in 35 states.
    “We must put scarce universal service dollars to their best possible use as we move into a digital future that demands ever more powerful and faster networks,” Rosenworcel said. “We cannot afford to subsidize ventures that are not delivering the promised speeds or are not likely to meet program requirements.”
    The FCC said the two companies both provided inadequate responses to questions and are not capable of complying with commission requirements.

 

FCC Rejects RDOF applications of LTD broadband and Starlink

From the FCC

The Federal Communications Commission today announced that it is rejecting the long-form applications of LTD Broadband and Starlink to receive support through the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund program. The Commission determined that these applications failed to demonstrate that the providers could deliver the promised service. Funding these vast proposed networks would not be the best use of limited Universal Service Fund dollars to bring broadband to unserved areas across the United States, the Commission concluded.
“After careful legal, technical, and policy review, we are rejecting these applications. Consumers deserve reliable and affordable high-speed broadband,” said Chairwoman Rosenworcel. “We must put scarce universal service dollars to their best possible use as we move into a digital future
that demands ever more powerful and faster networks. We cannot afford to subsidize ventures that are not delivering the promised speeds or are not likely to meet program requirements.”
“Starlink’s technology has real promise,” continued Chairwoman Rosenworcel. “But the question before us was whether to publicly subsidize its still developing technology for consumer broadband—which requires that users purchase a $600 dish—with nearly $900 million in
universal service funds until 2032.”
In the initial auction results announced December 7, 2020, LTD Broadband won $1,320,920,718.60, and Space Exploration Technologies Corp. (Starlink) won $885,509,638.40.
Although LTD was a relatively small fixed wireless provider before the auction, it was the largest winning bidder in the auction, submitting winning bids in 15 states. Subsequently, it failed to timely receive eligible telecommunications carrier status in seven states, rendering it ineligible in
those states for support. Ultimately, the FCC review concluded that LTD was not reasonably capable of deploying a network of the scope, scale, and size required by LTD’s extensive winning bids.

Regular readers will know this is bittersweet news. LTD was awarded the opportunity to apply for $311 million to deploy fiber in Minnesota. On the one hand, this is $311 million that is unlikely to come back to Minnesota in the same way. On the other hand, many people were suspect with LTD’s ability to meet what they proposed. In Minnesota, the MN PUC recently agreed to look into revoking LTD’s credentials here; these credentials were required to get RDOF money. The FCC had previously proposed fining LTD for violating requirements.

 

Le Sueur County and Bevcomm are applying for Border to Border funds – again post-RDOF issues

Le Sueur County News posts an update of what’s happening with broadband plans in the county since they last applied for MN State Border to Border grants and were disqualified because they were in an area where LTD Broadband had subsequently been awarded an opportunity to apply for federal (RDOF)…

After two years of being walled off from state broadband dollars, Le Sueur County is reviving efforts to bring high speed internet to nearly 250 rural households.

At the July 26 Le Sueur County Board of Commissioners meeting, Broadband Initiative Coordinator Barbara Droher-Kline announced local internet service provider Bevcomm would be seeking a Border-to-Border grant to expand high speed internet service to 152 homes in Montgomery Township 89 homes in Lexington Township and 6 homes in Sharon Township.

Le Sueur County agreed to dedicate $350,000 toward the project with Montgomery, Lexington and Sharon townships compensating the county $1,500 per home in their respective territories.

The county has attempted to lift the project off the ground since September of 2020. Back then, Bevcomm requested $300,000 in matching funds from the county to build a $1.6 million fiber optic network providing 1 Gbps speeds to 239 homes.

The network was to build off of Bevcomm’s existing fiber optic network, constructed in partnership with Le Sueur County and a $2 million Border-to-Border grant in 2020.