Thousands of rural areas could be on their way to getting future-proof broadband after the Federal Communications Commission’s completion of its Rural Digital Opportunity Fund application review.
The FCC announced in late December that 97% of the $6.2 billion in RDOF funds will go to internet providers offering 1-gigabit service download and 500 megabits per second upload.
“While we would have liked to see symmetrical speed standards, the fact that almost all locations funded with the RDOF are getting a gig download is a win for rural America,” said Katie Culleton, NRECA legislative affairs director for broadband.
“The unserved and underserved areas left today are some of the most difficult and expensive to connect. Building to an asymmetric standard means that more funds will be needed to upgrade the network in the future as consumer demands grow and new technologies come online. It's why we've been pushing for a scalable symmetrical standard in federal broadband programs.”
NRECA has urged the FCC to establish a national broadband benchmark of at least 100 Mbps for data upload and download to ensure that rural communities are not left behind in the digital economy. Consumer needs already surpass a commission proposal to update the current standard from 25/3 Mbps to 100/20 Mbps, NRECA said.
In total, the FCC said it will authorize 379 RDOF recipients for $6.2 billion over a 10-year deployment term to serve almost 3.5 million locations in 48 states and one territory. At least 115 electric co-ops are RDOF winners of about $1.1 billion to deploy broadband to over 616,000 locations in 27 states.
The FCC began reviewing the RDOF long-form applications in December 2020, and the pot dwindled from $9.2 billion after several initial awardees defaulted or were found unable to meet the program’s obligations.
Completion of the RDOF review removes any uncertainty surrounding eligibility of rural locations for the $42.5 billion Broadband, Equity, Access and Deployment (BEAD) Program and other federal broadband programs, said Brian O’Hara, NRECA’s senior regulatory director for broadband and telecom.
“With some RDOF awards still hanging out there, there were concerns that areas may be left behind,” O’Hara said. “Now it is clear what locations will receive their RDOF funds or will be available for BEAD.”
“It also underscores what NRECA said from the beginning: A more thorough, upfront vetting of providers would have reduced this three-year delay and allowed for the now defaulted $3.2 billion in previously committed funds to have gone to providers, such as co-ops, who could actually follow through with their commitments,” said Culleton.
NRECA Broadband is positioning co-ops as a crucial force in rural broadband. Visit cooperative.com/broadband to learn more and sign up.