PCCA Journal 1st Quarter 2020

PCCA Journal|1 st Quarter 2020 7 InsideWashington FCC Announces Rural Digital Opportunity Fund By Eben Wyman I n mid-January, the Federal Communications Com- mission (FCC) announced plans to vote on a $20.4 billion package aimed at accelerating the build-out of fiber optic, high-speed broadband to rural Ameri- ca. The Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) was originally announced by FCC Chairman Ajit Pai last summer and is meant to build on the second phase of FCC’s Connect America Fund (CAF) program that tried to improve rural internet speeds in the ongoing effort to address the “rural digital divide.” The RDOF will institute a new FCC minimum standard of 25/3 Mbps, and would allocate funds over 10 years through a reverse-auction format in two stages. For Phase I, FCC would target $16 billion to areas that are wholly unserved by 25/3 Mbps. Phase II would use FCC’s new granular broad- band mapping approach, known as the Digital Opportunity Data Collection, to target unserved households in areas where some households have access to 25/3 but others do not. Phase II would also include areas that did not receive winning bids in Phase I. The remaining $4.4 billion, as well as any unawarded funds from Phase I, would be made avail- able in Phase II for areas that are partially served and any areas that are not won in Phase I. According to the FCC, this “two-phase structure would allow the FCC to expedite funding to areas that we know are unserved rather than waiting for the completion of the agency’s ongoing, comprehensive effort to improve map- ping.” New Focus on Speeds Importantly, in an effort to “prioritize the deployment of broadband networks that will meet the needs of tomorrow as well as today,” the RDOF would establish bidding weights with a greater preference for faster speeds and lower latency. For years, PCCA has encouraged the FCC to raise the ante when it comes to target speeds, encouraging adoption of target speeds at 100/100 Mbps. Under the RDOF rules, applicants will be allowed to select and bid on the following additional performance tiers: Minimum, Baseline, Above Baseline, and Gigabit. FCC will prioritize certain bids by automatically choosing those that provide faster service once the Phase I auction reaches the clearing amount of $16 billion. “Congress has called on the commission to fund sustain- able and forward-looking networks that will stand the test of time.... I agree,” Pai said. “That’s why, in addition to more than doubling the minimum speed required of bidders in the Connect America Phase II auction, I’m proposing a signifi- cant additional measure to favor the deployment of faster services.” Addressing Flawed Maps The FCC will also conduct a “challenge process” for Phase I consistent with the process previously used for the CAF II auction, requiring the release of a preliminary list and map of initially eligible census blocks. The challenge process will EbenWyman PCCA Government & Industry Affairs eben@wymanassociates.net (703) 740-6126 Continued on page 8