FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly committed to holding off on voting to distribute funds for an upcoming auction concerning rural broadband until the agency’s location maps are fixed. During a re-nomination hearing on Tuesday, Senate Commerce Chairman Roger Wicker (R-MS) referenced the Rural Broadband Data Act signed by President Trump in March. The bill requires the FCC to issue new rules “to require the collection and dissemination of granular broadband availability data and to establish a process to verify the accuracy of such data, and more.”
The Commission in April adopted procedures for Phase I of the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund auction (Auction 904), which will award up to $16 billion in support over 10 years for the deployment of fixed broadband networks. Wicker noted the RDOF auction is supposed to begin in October. He asked O’Rielly whether he would vote to move forward with distributing auction funds without first fixing the FCC’s flawed broadband location maps.
At first, O’Rielly said he’d have “serious concerns” about the distribution. After Wicker pressed the issue, O’Rielly committed to waiting for funding dispersal until there are new maps.
“Where are we on new maps?” Wicker asked. “I understand the Chairman’s been advocating for additional funding [to implement the law],” O’Rielly said. “I think we can do things in the meantime.”
Asked if the auction could be sooner than the fall, O’Rielly explained the FCC has “difficulty running two auctions at the same time.” That’s why the agency’s planned the CBRS auction in July, RDOF in October and C-band in December.
By Leslie Stimson, Inside Towers Washington Bureau Chief