FCC announces some RDOF winners – in MN that’s Farmers Mutual Telephone Company

FCC announced 466 RDOF winning bids. The only winner announced in Minnesota was Farmers Mutual Telephone Company. Here’s the announcement

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), authorize 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-form application, we authorize 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.  The summary will provide for each long-form 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.

Here are some of the details for the Farmers Mutual bids:

Winning bid MN-073-1801002

  • 26 locations
  • $21,054.00 over 10 years

Winning bid MN-073-1801001

  • 2 locations
  • $ 7,626.00 over 10 years

Winning bid MN-073-1801003

  • 6 locations
  • $ 2,294.00 over 10 years

Winning bid MN-073-1802001

  • 119 locations
  • $ 216,152.00 over 10 years

Winning bid MN-073-1802002

  • 37 locations
  • $ 166,258.00 over 10 years

Winning bid MN-073-1803001

  • 39 locations
  • $ 152,096.00

Winning bid MN-073-1803002

  • 78 locations
  • $ 177,172.00 over 10 years

Winning bid MN-073-1803003

  • 25 locations
  • $ 17,170.00 over 10 years

No word on LTD.

What about the RDOF areas that are already served?

Fierce Telecom reports on what’s happening with the RDOF grants. As you may recall, the FCC asked providers to look at the areas they wanted to serve to make sure that they weren’t already served. Providers are doing that but it’s raising questions – what will happen to the money the FCC slated to serve those areas…

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) recently urged operators to ensure money awarded to them in the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) Phase I auction wouldn’t go toward unnecessary coverage, and they responded – with a wave of waiver requests. As a result, millions in broadband funding could be left on the table.

Top RDOF winners including LTD Broadband, Windstream, Frontier Communications and Starry, were among those seeking to relinquish winning bids without penalty, after receiving warning letters from the FCC last month. Collectively, the waiver requests cover thousands of census blocks across at least 26 states.

The FCC issued letters to a total of 197 RDOF winners, flagging potentially redundant funding in a total of 15,187 census blocks. Operators had until August 16 to request waivers for these areas.

LTD Broadband requested waivers for more than 3,000 census blocks spanning California, Colorado, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, North Dakota, Nebraska, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Texas, Wisconsin. The operator was notably the top bidder in the RDOF auction, winning $1.3 billion in funding to provide service to 528,000 locations across those 15 states.

… and what will happen to the providers in question…

It is unclear exactly how much funding is associated with the waiver requests mentioned above. Last month, the FCC revealed more than 60 bidding entities have already defaulted on winning bids totaling $78,533,385.30 and covering nearly 11,000 census blocks.

According to RDOF rules, operators in default of winning bids are subject to a penalty of $3,000 per violation. But the FCC said in its warning letter last month it would consider waiving the fees if operators could demonstrate why defaulting on their bids would serve the public interest.

Wisconsin looks at failed history of federal funding for broadband

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel does a nice job detailing the illustrious history of federal funding for broadband over the past few Administrations. The title of the article says it all…

With poor data, deficient requirements and little oversight, massive public spending still hasn’t solved the rural internet access problem

There isn’t a lot new in the summary but it’s a good and succinct account, starting with the stories of people who have been waiting for decades for the federal funds to trickle down to deploy broadband to their homes and including lots of good details, facts and figures. They boil the issue to a few high level points: inadequate mapping of the problem and minimal requirements and even less administration.

The need…

The Federal Communications Commission has said that nationwide around 14 million people lack access to broadband, also known as high-speed internet. However, the firm Broadband Now, which helps consumers find service, estimates it’s closer to 42 million. And although Microsoft Corp. doesn’t have the ability to measure everyone’s actual internet connection, the tech giant says approximately 120 million Americans aren’t using the internet at true broadband speeds of at least 25-megabit-per-second downloads and 3 Mbps uploads — a further indication of how many people have been left behind.

The attempts so far…

None of the efforts under any of the administrations succeeded, and some of the reasons were fairly straightforward. The data on who has broadband  — and who doesn’t  — has been flawed. Some of the upgrades quickly became obsolete. There’s been limited accountability.

“We have given away $40 billion in the last 10 years … and haven’t solved the problem,” said Tom Wheeler, who was FCC chairman in Obama’s administration. “I always thought the definition of insanity was doing things the same way over and over and believing that, somehow, something will change.”

And so the digital divide, which some say has become a chasm, remains.

And the funders having little to say about who gets service…

Under the Connect America Fund requirements, grant recipients had a great deal of latitude in where they deployed upgrades. They were allowed, for example, to bypass thinly populated sections of rural counties and make up the difference in other CAF II-eligible areas that had more customers.

It’s really hurt places like Price County, according to Hallstrand, who says the government subsidies should be used to cover the areas most in need of better service before the money’s spent in other places.

“That’s how rural America gets broadband,” he said.

In one rural Wisconsin county after another, Connect America Fund II has left a trail of skepticism and frustration. Many communities have initiated their own broadband expansion projects, seeking state grants and local partnerships, because they haven’t seen much help from the federal government and big-name service providers.

Interactive map of RDOF winners and bids in default

Last week, the FCC announced some of the winners and losers of RDOF awards. CNS has created an interactive map that include that info. Specifically, as they reports. The maps include

  • Initially won RDOF block groups
  • LTD and AB Indiana bidders’ declined waivers
  • Bids ready to be authorized
  • Bids in default
  • Potentially previously served blocks within winning areas

More on FCC’s scrutiny of RDOF awards – necessary but leaving communities in limbo

Ars Technica reports

The Federal Communications Commission wants SpaceX to give up a portion of the $885.51 million in broadband funding it was awarded in a reverse auction in December 2020.

SpaceX’s Starlink satellite broadband division was one of the biggest winners in the FCC’s Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) grants announced in Ajit Pai’s last full month as FCC chairman. Overall, Pai’s FCC awarded $9.2 billion over 10 years ($920 million per year) to 180 bidders nationwide, with SpaceX slated to get $885.51 million over 10 years to serve homes and businesses in parts of 35 states.

Pai apparently mismanaged the auction, as an announcement yesterday from Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel’s office said the FCC has to “clean up issues with the program’s design originating from its adoption in 2020.” The FCC cited “complaints that the program was poised to fund broadband to parking lots and well-served urban areas.” The FCC suggested that SpaceX give up its funding in about 6 percent of the census blocks where it’s slated to get money. Other ISPs are being asked to give up smaller portions of their funding.

The rules that Pai set for the first RDOF auction required funding to go only to census blocks where no providers offer speeds of 25Mbps down and 3Mbps up. A planned Phase 2 auction would target such areas, but the first auction was meant only for places that are completely unserved.

Rosenworcel’s office sent letters to dozens of winning bidders yesterday, suggesting that they voluntarily give up a portion of their funding. The letter to SpaceX stands out for the sheer number of census blocks—about 6,500 in 34 states—where the FCC is challenging SpaceX’s funding. Those 6,500 are among about 113,900 census blocks where SpaceX tentatively won FCC grants.

The letters to SpaceX and other ISPs pointed to concerns “that certain areas included in the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund auction are already served by one or more service providers that offer 25/3Mbps broadband service or otherwise raise significant concerns about wasteful spending, such as parking lots and international airports.”

Lots of folks (including me) have written about the concerns of funding going to odd areas (like the Vikings practice facility) and the ability of a provider to deploy what they have promised. Locally that concerns highlights LTD’s experience providing FTTP. Just yesterday I was in conversation with communities that are in a holding pattern because they are in RDOF areas and subsequently their applications for MN State funding for broadband was turned down last year and now they don’t qualify for funding – because they are theoretically going to be served by RDOF projects.

It’s a good idea to investigate the funds, clearly we don’t want money going to areas where it won’t help or won’t be used to help enough (or as promised) but for communities on the frontlines this game of waiting is getting old.

FCC makes some announcements on RDOF funding – nothing on LTD in Minnesota

I want to get this out because it’s something we’ve all been waiting for – and it’s important. At highest level – looks like Consolidates and Farmers have gotten word to move ahead on some projects. (Not sure if it’s all projects.) It looks like Aspire was offered (and took) the opportunity to withdraw. Nothing about LTD in Minnesota. However, LTD was denied its extension to get ETC designation in California, Kansas and Oklahoma so is in default there. FCC deferred for five other states where LTD requested extension for getting ETC designation (Iowa, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota and Texas).

Side note: I’m going to ask for some generous leniency here – if I got something wrong please let me know and I’ll fix it. I really wanted to get this out but there has been a disturbing incent across the street from my house. (It was a shooting in St Paul that will likely be covered in News.) So my concentration is not stellar.

Today’s action represents the first funding to be approved through the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund.  As a result of today’s announcement, 48 broadband providers will bring 1 Gbps broadband speeds to nearly 200,000 homes and businesses over the next 10 years.  Here are the Ready to Authorize Long-Form Applicants and Winning Bids (in MN):

(Info on each line – Applicant Name, FRN, Winning Bid Name, State, Area Codes, # of Census Blocks, #of Eligible Census Blocks, # of locations, Winning Bid over 10 yrs, Amt due on LOC – easier to read in PDF – but now search able here.)

  1. Consolidated Communications    0003713930MN-103-4805021Minnesota                                 361375            1             2             12             $ 11,126.00              $ 1,112.60
  2. Farmers Mutual Telephone        0003747722MN-073-1801001Minnesota                                     369020            1             2              2               $ 7,626.00               $ 762.60
  3. Farmers Mutual Telephone        0003747722MN-073-1801002Minnesota                                     369020            1            11             26             $ 21,054.00              $ 2,105.40
  4. Farmers Mutual Telephone        0003747722MN-073-1801003Minnesota                                     369020            1             3              6               $ 2,294.00               $ 229.40
  5. Farmers Mutual Telephone        0003747722MN-073-1802001Minnesota                                     369020            1            13            119            $ 216,152.00             $ 21,615.20
  6. Farmers Mutual Telephone        0003747722MN-073-1802002Minnesota                                     369020            1            21             37            $ 166,258.00             $ 16,625.80
  7. Farmers Mutual Telephone        0003747722MN-073-1803001Minnesota                                     369020            1            19             39            $ 152,096.00             $ 15,209.60
  8. Farmers Mutual Telephone        0003747722MN-073-1803002Minnesota                                     369020            1            36             78            $ 177,172.00             $ 17,717.20
  9. Farmers Mutual Telephone        0003747722MN-073-1803003Minnesota                                     369020            1            11             25             $ 17,170.00              $ 1,717.00

At the same time, the FCC also took steps to clean up the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund program.  In light of complaints that the program was poised to fund broadband to parking lots and well-served urban areas, the FCC sent letters to 197 winning bidders.  The letters offer providers an opportunity to withdraw their funding requests from those places already with service or where significant questions of waste have been raised. Here are the Bids in Default (in MN):

(Info on each line – Applicant Name, FRN, Winning Bid Name, State, Area Codes, # of Census Blocks, #of Eligible Census Blocks, # of locations, Winning Bid over 10 yrs – easier to read in PDF – but now search able here.)

  1. Aspire Networks 2, LLC          0030311583MN_05b                  Minnesota                                 2            155          1,150             $ 6,709,428.00

Next, the FCC made clear that it will not tolerate any provider participating in the program that is not serious about providing broadband service or has not made appropriate efforts to secure state approvals.  To this end, the FCC rejected requests from AB Indiana in Florida and LTD Broadband in California, Oklahoma, and Kansas to waive program deadlines, in light of their failure to act in a timely way to seek state certification.

Greenwood Township is looking at options for better broadband

The Ely Timberjay reports

There may be no easy answers on how to get broadband internet service to Greenwood Township, but there will be some options if the township decides to move forward. The lack of decent internet service, let alone high-speed service, is seen as a major issue facing the township in the future, particularly as increasing numbers of residents and new arrivals seek to work from home.
The town board met with Joe Buttweiler, from broadband provider CTC, along with IRRRB staffer Whitney Ridlon and RAMS director Steve Giorgi, during a special meeting on June 15.

Greenwood Township is caught in an RDOF area that is not hopeful about their prospects…

But the awarding of Rural Digital Opportunity Funding (RDOF) has put a monkey-wrench into broadband project planning in the area, with the possible awarding of a huge amount of federal money to a small internet company with no experience putting in fiber optic-based systems, let alone doing projects nationwide.
“The problem is,” Buttweiler said, “nobody believes they can do what they said they would do. It costs too much.”
Currently the FCC is vetting the company, LTD Broadband, but there is no timeline for the process, and Buttweiler said he did not expect a decision until a new FCC commissioner is installed. LTD could possibly receive $312 million for projects throughout Minnesota, not just for this area.
While this is underway, most other state or federal grant programs are unwilling to fund projects in the RDOF area, which includes huge areas of St. Louis County.

But they have a few options…

Buttweiler said there are other options for bringing in broadband, but they would involve a major investment from the township, though that investment could be paid back by the provider over the course of several years.
CTC is a co-op, he said, and doesn’t have access to huge amounts of capital. In other areas they have done arrangements where the local governmental unit comes up with the capital costs up front, and then enters into a construction agreement with CTC who would then lease the fiber from the township, including responsibility for maintenance and operational costs. This agreement could include giving CTC the option to buy back the fiber network from the township, once the costs are paid off by their annual lease payments.


Another option would be to have CTC finance a smaller portion of the project up front, possibly bringing in other partners and grant dollars, along with funding from the township.
Greenwood has applied for $110,000 in federal funding, which isn’t tied to RDOF. There is also funding available from the IRRRB that could be accessed. Whitney Ridlon, who works on broadband issues for the IRRR, said they have $2 million for local matches for broadband projects, but would probably only award up to $750,000, or up to 25 percent of a project’s cost.

They are looking for input from the community…

Greenwood residents are encouraged to complete a survey on the CTC website, to indicate any interest in broadband internet service. CTC also offers television and telephone service in bundled packages. CTC is currently adding broadband service in Cherry Township (rural Hibbing), and offering broadband-speed service at approximately $60/month.
Anyone with an address in Greenwood Township is asked to fill out the survey at https://join.connectctc.com/front_end/zones.

Charter waves a red flag on RDOF results based on map inaccuracies

Fierce Telecom reports

Charter Communications filed a waiver request on May 11 with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) related to its award in the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) auction.

Charter, like all RDOF auction winners, promised to bring broadband to unserved areas. But the company has been auditing the census block grants (CBGs) where it was awarded funds, and it’s found that several of these areas already have broadband or will soon be receiving it.

Bidding under the name of CCO Holdings, Charter was awarded $1.22 billion in the RDOF Phase 1 auction, which concluded in December 2020. Charter won 5,366 CBGs, representing about 1 million homes and small businesses across 24 states for which it’s promised to deliver fiber broadband services.

Similar to something I posted about last week when we dug into Minnesota maps and they showed similar inaccuracies in MN RDOF award areas

Through RDOF LTD Broadband was deemed eligible to receive $1.32 billion in the US, including $312 million in Minnesota to build FTTH to unserved locations. There is some controversy about that decision – but this post isn’t about LTD, it’s about the maps.

Looking at maps where LTD is eligible to received funding, there are some surprises. For example the Vikings Practice Facility shows up as eligible, as does Henry Sibley High School, lots of locations along the highway and spots in commercial portions of suburban Twin Cities – just feet away from areas that were served. And then there are areas where locations seem to be on or under the highway.

Literally billions of taxpayer dollars are being spent on the RDOF; $16 billion in phase one and $4 billion in phase two. The program duration is 10 years, which means anomalies and discrepancies not caught now make take 10 years to emerge, which may leave some communities unserved for 10 more years. Already some communities in RDOF areas are disqualified for other funding to secure better broadband. There are worse things than changing your mind at the alter – especially when the partnerships impact so many people. Maybe it’s time to reassess what’s on the table.

US poised to award $100B to SpaceX Starlink – will it help rural residents?

Telecompetitor reports…

The analysts estimate SpaceX’s total addressable U.S. market at full deployment at between 300,000 to 800,000 households, or less than 1% of the market.

It’s a particularly noteworthy number, considering that SpaceX is poised to receive nearly $900 million from the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) to cover some of the costs of bringing broadband to unserved rural areas. And considering that the total number of locations for which SpaceX was the winning RDOF bidder is 642,000.

Why do they have doubts?

MoffettNathanson’s estimate of SpaceX’s addressable market is based on several assumptions, which according to the researchers, are conservative. These include:

  • Although Starlink currently has about 1400 satellites deployed, the analysis is based on the nearly 12,000 satellites that the company expects to launch, approximately one third of which will cover the U.S.
  • Based on satellite inclines of 53 degrees, researchers estimate that only about 3% of Starlink’s satellites will be visible to U.S. customers at any given time.
  • According to SpaceX FCC filings, each satellite will have a capacity of 17-23 Gbps, but future developments could expand that. Therefore, the researchers assumed a doubling or tripling of per-satellite capacity.
  • The average broadband user consumes data at a constant rate of 2.2-2.7 Mbps during peak consumption hours, leading to researchers’ assumption that 4 Mbps of bandwidth per user would be needed to provide good quality of service today. The researchers forecast that requirement to increase to 10-18 Mbps per user in the next five years

One last factor…

SpaceX is charging customers $499 for a rooftop antenna, which according to news reports, cost the company $2,400, which suggests that the company is subsidizing each installation by nearly $2,000.

It seems like that $499 installation fee could increase at any time, which would make satellite much less affordable to deploy for the household. The authors also remind us that Starlink is in line to get $100 billion from the US government through an RDOF award.

Is MN a broadband winner or loser? A look at Federal Funding RDOF and CAF

Telecompetitor reports on the RDOF ranking by state. Turns out Minnesota ranks highly for funding per rural resident…

The states with the most funding per rural resident, in descending order, were California ($830), West Virginia ($530), Arkansas ($377), Minnesota ($328), Massachusetts ($327), Mississippi ($313), Pennsylvania ($254), Wisconsin ($248), Illinois ($205) and Michigan ($201).

You’d think that would make Minnesotans feel like winners but it doesn’t because there is great concern over what that money is going to buy and when. The biggest concern is about LTD, undeniably a big winner with an opportunity to bid for almost $312 million project to build FTTH (fiber to the home) to 102,005 homes. This is especially surprising because they are a small company that always has focused on fixed wireless not fiber.

I’ve written a lot about this – so a quick rundown:

This story may sound familiar. It reads an awful lot like what I posted about CAF II awards in 2015

If I’ve learned nothing else from the TV show Toddlers in Tiaras, I learned that sometimes you don’t want to win the first crown. Winning the first crown is better than winning nothing, but it usually puts you out of the running for Best in Show. Getting access at speeds of 10/1 is better than what the communities receiving CAF 2 funding have now. And any improvement is an improvement. BUT those speeds are slower than the Minnesota speed goals of 10/5 (The MN Broadband Task Force is looking to update those speeds.) and they seem even slower when you compare them to rural areas that have Gig access, such as Grand RapidsRed WingLac qui Parle CountyNew PragueRogersMelrose and others.

Five years later, CAF II winners CenturyLink (Lumen) and Frontier report that they “may not have met” CAF II deployment deadlines for 2020. Here’s what I said when that announcement was made in January…

The frustration is that this leaves many people without broadband – again. The goal is to build to 25/3 (even lower in some areas) and they haven’t done that. To put that in perspective, it does not get them closer to the MN State speed goal of 100/20 by 2026. In Minnesota we are used to the State MN border to border broadband grant rules where project must build networks that are scalable to 100/100. That is not the case with these networks and getting to 25/3 does not mean getting to 100/20 will be easier.

Also there is the concern for customers that the promise or threat of building has kept competitors out of their market. The promise of a CAF II network has made it more difficult for the communities to get funding from other sources. CAF II funding focused on the providers only – communities didn’t not sign up or on to the program.

Einstein said, insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Frustration is watching from the sideline as decision makers make the same decision again and again, especially when you are the community that suffers the consequence.

MN Telecom Alliance asks FCC to deny LTD’s long-form RDOF application

I have written about concerns with the LTD winning options for federal funding through RDOF. Looks like MN Telecom Alliance is taking steps to formalize those concerns. Telecompetitor reports

Two state associations representing broadband providers have asked the FCC to deny the long-form application filed by LTD Broadband in the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) program. LTD Broadband had the largest amount of RDOF winning bids in the program and stands to gain $1.3 billion for broadband deployments in 15 states if its long-form application is approved.

In a joint filing with the FCC, the Minnesota Telecom Alliance and the Iowa Communications Alliance argue that “there is no indication that LTD has the technical, engineering, financial, operational, management, staff, or other resources to meet RDOF build-out and service obligations.”

They get into some details…

Arguments made by the Minnesota and Iowa associations in their filing about LTD Broadband RDOF concerns:

  • LTD won funding in five states in the Connect America Fund (CAF II) auction but was fined $3,563 for defaulting on bids in one census block in Nebraska and another in Nevada. The FCC rejected LTD’s argument that it had been unable to obtain designation as an eligible telecommunications carrier in those states – a requirement for obtaining funding.
  • The company has been criticized by the Minnesota Department of Commerce for failure to comply with its obligations to advertise Lifeline service to eligible customers.
  • The Better Business Bureau gives LTD’s Minnesota operations a failing rating based on the length of time it has been operating and because the company failed to respond to a complaint filed against the business and currently has 14 complaints filed against it.
  • The associations estimate that the LTD Broadband RDOF build-out will cost the company between $5,000 to $8,000 per location, yielding estimated 15-state construction costs of $2.6 billion to $4.2 billion. Noting that the company does not likely have the required funding on hand, the petitioners argue that the FCC should “place a substantial and stringent burden of proof on LTD to demonstrate reasonable, workable and detailed technical plans for constructing and operating its RDOF broadband networks . . . and to show that it has clear and certain access to the financial resources necessary to meet the realistic and detailed costs of such technical plans.”

The filing reminds the FCC that 160 members of Congress sent a letter to the commission urging the commission to thoroughly vet winning RDOF bidders.

LTD Broadband partners with Aviat for wireless platform system

PRNewswire reports

Aviat Networks, Inc. (NASDAQ: AVNW), the leading expert in wireless transport solutions, today announced that LTD Broadband, an internet service provider (ISP) and top recipient in the US government’s Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) auction with a total of $1.3 billion in funding, will deploy Aviat’s WTM 4000 microwave and multi-band platform systems in its network middle mile and for fiber redundancy. The company has already deployed these Aviat systems in its current network, which delivers high-speed connectivity to commercial and residential subscribers in Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin, South Dakota, Nebraska, and Kansas, with other states in planning as part of the company’s RDOF expansion.

“Our experience with Aviat has been exceptional,” said Corey Hauer, Chief Executive Officer, LTD Broadband. “The company’s WTM systems deliver the multi-gigabit fixed wireless performance we need, and Aviat Design enables solid link planning with no surprises. We are able to order the systems from the Aviat Store and take delivery within a couple of weeks, something no other radio manufacturer can offer us, accelerating our time to market. These capabilities will become even more critical as we roll out our RDOF plans.”

LTD Broadband was selected to submit a long form RDOF proposal to build FTTH; they were the biggest winner of potential funding in Minnesota. There is some concern that they are better versed in building wireless network than the fiber they are committed to building in Minnesota.

How LTD Broadband plans to meet RDOF requirements

Fierce Telecom takes a look at how LTD Broadband did so well with the RDOF process…

The RDOF auction was a “reverse auction.” This is different than typical auctions where multiple buyers bid up the price for an item from the seller. In its reverse auction, the FCC drove down the price of its item — awards to deploy broadband — by having multiple bidders compete against each other to provide the best technology at the lowest price. The FCC has used reverse auctions before.

But there was a provision in the FCC’s auction rules (paragraph 20, page 9) for RDOF that created a “clearing round.” The bidding system took into account the performance and latency promises of bidders in a census block and eliminated the inferior bidder from proceeding.

The electric co-ops may not have bid at the highest speed tier — the 1 Gbps/500 Mbps — if they weren’t confident they could deliver those speeds. But it turned out they were often eliminated from the auction if another bidder in a particular census block did bid at that speed tier.

Sounds like LTD was able to use this to their advantage; they did bid at the higher tiers.

Fierce Telecom also look at how LTD plans to deliver on their fiber plan…

Hauer said LTD plans to deliver on its promise of fiber to rural areas, and he doesn’t seem daunted by the cost, even though the expense of fiber has humbled large companies in the past, such as Verizon.

He said it’s hard for providers to lay fiber in urban and suburban areas because there is a lot of existing infrastructure to contend with such as natural gas lines, sewer pipes, water systems and buildings. “Our theory is that it’s going to be easier to do in rural areas,” he said. “Fiber is primarily a labor proposition.” He said his company will be able to deploy fiber faster and cost-effectively in rural because there are less obstacles.

He said LTD will probably lay fiber using both methods: in-the-ground and aerial on existing infrastructure such as telephone wires. He said, “With a fiber plow that puts fiber in the ground, you can go at walking speed.”

Even though there’s a shortage of skilled fiber layers, Hauer said he has a plan for securing workers, which he’s not willing to share publicly.

In areas where it’s simply impossible to lay fiber, LTD will use other methods such as microwave hops. “Fiber is the source of the river,” said Hauer. “And in many cases, we also will use fiber at the end. For RDOF, where we would consider FWA would be the middle mile…. It might be mountain top to mountain top where we could do multi-gigabit microwave links as part of this. In most cases we’ll be able to run fiber.”

EVENT Feb 16: RDOF – LEO Satellite Assessment Webinar from Fiber Broadband

Of potential interest to folks watching RDOF and especially if you like in an area where satellite is in line to get RDOF funding (check map)…

RDOF – LEO Satellite Assessment
Presented by: Fiber Broadband Association
Complimentary Webinar
Tuesday, February 16th, 10:00 AM EDT

The Fiber Broadband Association commissioned research firm Cartesian to develop an independent analysis and a model to help the FCC analyze whether Starlink is likely to meet the RDOF public interest obligations.

The results of this study indicate that Starlink will fail to meet the RDOF public interest requirements on a nationwide basis, with over 56% of subscribers expected to experience service degradation during peak periods. This expected service degradation will worsen and significantly impact all its awarded RDOF locations if Starlink’s broadband capacity is also offered to (non-RDOF) commercial subscribers.

Register now

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.