Rural Broadband Advocates Seek Exposure of Census Block Defaults

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Rural broadband advocates want the FCC to disclose which census blocks may be in danger of funding shortfalls because winning bidders in the agency’s recent Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) auction for high-speed network projects fell short of Commission requirements. They’re concerned RDOF Phase 1 locations that have been defaulted on — or may be in the future — could be prevented from getting support from other federal, state and local funding sources.

The five advocacy groups are: NTCA-The Rural Broadband Association, the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, National Rural Telecommunications Cooperative, the Wisconsin State Telecommunications Association and the Ensuring RDOF Integrity Coalition or ERIC. ERIC member companies bid in the auction.

“Winning bidders” in the reverse RDOF auction are really “provisional” until the agency acts on a bidder’s long-form application, they note in a filing to the FCC. “Other federal, state and local government funding programs should therefore be aware that until such time as a winning bidder’s long-form application is granted and ETC designation, letters of credit, and bankruptcy code opinion letters are obtained, a winning bidder’s census block groups are not funded through RDOF,” state the five groups.

If the FCC denies a long-form application in the next 12 months or so, locations in these census block groups are likely to be denied eligibility for critical funding through other federal, state and local broadband funding programs, according to the rural broadband advocacy groups. That kind of an outcome “unjustly strands” rural residents and businesses in these census block groups without broadband support for an indeterminate period, they state.

That’s why they urge the agency to be transparent and quickly release a list of winning bidders who provisionally won census block groups but have since defaulted on those. “Defaults or apparent defaults should be listed whether the default occurred due to failure to timely submit necessary information or waiver requests by the long-form application deadlines, or by notification of the intent to default provided to the Commission by winning bidders,” say the groups.

Inside Towers reported the agency is reviewing long-form applications by RDOF provisional winners. Some non-winning groups challenged certain winners, asserting they can’t actually conduct rural broadband deployments with the speed levels claimed in their submitted documents.

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