Wicker, Thune Ask When FCC Will Wrap RDOF Review

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Two Republican Senators want to know how much longer the FCC is going to vet long-form applications for the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund Phase 1 auction. The December 2020 auction tentatively awarded a total of $9.2 billion to over 300 bidders to deploy high-speed broadband service to about 5.2 million unserved homes and businesses in 49 states.

The RDOF auction was a reverse auction designed to award funding for an area to the company that committed to deploying service at the lowest level of support, with a weighting system favoring bids to deploy faster, lower-latency service. Non-winning bidders have questioned some of the winning bidders’ financial ability to deploy what they say they can on paper, Inside Towers reported. 

Roger Wicker (R-MS), ranking member of the Senate Commerce Committee, and John Thune (R-SD), ranking member of the Communications, Media and Broadband Subcommittee, asked the Commission for a status update. They called the application review process “critical to ensuring that winning bidders are capable of fulfilling their legal technical and financial obligations under the program and can deliver broadband services to rural areas as promised.”

In a letter to FCC Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel, Wicker and Thune say the agency can’t award money to auction winners until it reviews and approves the long-form applications. This January, they asked then Chairman Ajit Pai to vet the winners publicly, and consider opportunities for public input on the applications. “Despite these requests, the FCC’s review process remains unclear,” wrote the lawmakers.

The lawmakers say they recognize the complexity of the process, however the Commission’s “prolonged evaluation of long-form applications become more transparent and efficient.” They urged the FCC to move along the process and begin authorizing support to winners.

They ask how many forms has the agency received and acted on and how many have been approved. If any have been denied, Wicker and Thune want to know why. They want to know if the Commission plans to review all the long-form applications before authorizing funding to winners and if so, why. When will the agency have the review completed, they ask. They seek answers by July 29.

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