$20.4B Rural Digital Opportunity Fund NPRM Adopted Despite Data Disputes

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The FCC has adopted and released the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) for the $20.4 billion 10-year Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) to expand broadband to unserved rural areas and raise benchmark speeds to 25/3 Mbps.  The RDOF replaces the now scrapped Remote Areas Fund and is set to be implemented in two different phases: first for wholly unserved areas and then partially unserved areas.  The NPRM requests comment on numerous RDOF proposals, including the following:

• Provide support for price cap areas receiving model-based support but lacking 25/3 Mbps speeds as well as unawarded CAF Phase II auction (Auction 903) areas;
• Provide additional support for unserved locations previously thought not to be high cost;
• Use a reverse auction similar to Auction 903;
• Implement the two-phase approach using two different sets of data, with Phase I using existing FCC Form 477 data to determine area eligibility and Phase II using new granular data to be collected through the newly proposed Digital Opportunity Data Collection;
• Apply technology-neutral standards. 

The Commission was particularly divided on the proposed use of different data sets for each of the phases, with Commissioners Rosenworcel and Starks dissenting and instead calling for the use in Phase I of the newer, more granular data to be collected in the new Digital Opportunity Data Collection proceeding.  Comment deadlines will be announced following the NPRM’s publication in the Federal Register, which has not yet occurred.

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