Areas that have received public funding for a rural broadband project should still be allowed to compete for a share of the $20.4 billion Rural Digital Opportunity Fund auction, NRECA told the Federal Communications Commission.

Rules for the RDOF released by the commission March 2 exclude areas that have won government grants or loans from being eligible for the largest reverse auction to deploy broadband in communities without even a minimal download/upload service of 25 megabits per second/3 Mbps.

“The FCC should re-evaluate its decision to exclude from RDOF Phase I all areas that received state or other federal funding to deploy broadband in these unserved areas,” said Brian O’Hara, NRECA senior director of regulatory and telecom.

“Co-ops in states that have taken the initiative to provide connectivity to underserved areas should not be punished or hindered in accessing this critical new funding that could help deliver future-proof broadband well above the minimum definition of 25/3 Mbps.”

The FCC’s RDOF rules would even ban co-ops and other small internet providers that have received 100% loans from ReConnect, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s rural broadband program. “That’s despite this financing being similar to what they could receive on the open market and counter to the precedent set in the CAF II reverse auction that permitted awardees to also obtain ReConnect loans,” O’Hara said.

NRECA, along with the Utilities Technology Council, filed comments March 27 with the FCC on how to administer the RDOF in a fair and efficient manner to ensure unserved communities get the best broadband available.

In addition to lifting the eligibility ban, the organizations made the following recommendations:

  • Take all necessary steps to keep the RDOF Phase I auction on track for October as scheduled.

  • Bidding areas should remain as smaller census block “groups” rather than larger census “tracts.”

  • New low Earth orbit satellite providers should be prohibited from Phase I because their technology is untested.

  • Geostationary satellite, fixed wireless and copper network providers should be excluded from bidding in the gigabit tier because they cannot meet those speeds.

The RDOF will be divided into two reverse auctions that allocate funds to winning bidders over 10 years. Bidding in Phase I is proposed to open Oct. 22, with $16 billion going to census blocks that lack fixed voice service and internet access at 25/3 Mbps. No date has been set for bidding in the $4.4 billion Phase II and any funds leftover from Phase I.

About 25 states have more than 100,000 eligible locations in Phase I, according to the FCC.

Explore NRECA’s resources on broadband.