FCC announces $1.2 billion fund for broadband deployment in rural areas

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has announced over $1.2 billion in funding through the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund [1.] to expand broadband service across 32 U.S. states. The FCC calls this “the largest funding round to date,” and notes 23 broadband companies will provide service to more than one million new areas.

Note 1. A total of $20.4 billion to be awarded by the FCC over 10 years. Up to $16 billion will be made available for Phase I of the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund auction, and the remaining Phase I budget, along with $4.4 billion, will be awarded for Phase II of the auction.

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In addition, the FCC also introduced the Rural Broadband Accountability Plan, which will double the number of audits and verifications performed this year in comparison to 2021. It will also require the FCC to make the results of verifications, audits as well as speed and latency tests public on the Universal Service Administration Company’s (USAC) website.

FCC Chair Jessica Rosenworcel: 
“The new Rural Broadband Accountability Plan will streamline our audit and verification processes while also making the results of verifications, audits, and latency testing publicly available for the first time. These safeguards will ensure that program providers do their jobs.”

The pandemic only amplified the gaps in connectivity affecting rural America, as employees transitioned to working from home and kids attended class virtually. To help remedy the issue, President Joe Biden signed off on a $1 trillion infrastructure package in November that allocates $65 billion to providing broadband to every American household. The FCC also launched a program that provides cheaper internet to low-income households late last year.

In December 2020, the FCC awarded companies a total of $9.2 billion under the Rural Digital Opportunity fund, and that included an $886 million subsidy for SpaceX. The Elon Musk-owned company was supposed to deploy its satellite internet network in rural areas, but last year, the FCC warned SpaceX and other providers to stop misusing these funds to provide service to well-connected areas.

References:

https://www.theverge.com/2022/1/29/22908024/fcc-rural-broadband-deployment-funding

https://www.fcc.gov/auction/904

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