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US proposes rural development fund for broadband

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has proposed taking its biggest single step to date toward closing the rural digital divide by establishing the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund, which would direct up to $20.4 billion to expand broadband in unserved rural areas. It says the proposal “would raise the bar” for rural broadband deployment by making more areas eligible for support and requiring faster service than last year’s Connect America Fund (CAF) phase II reverse auction. “If the FCC ultimately approves these proposals, millions more rural homes and small businesses would be connected to high-speed broadband networks providing up to gigabit speeds.” The FCC is seeking comment on continuing the expansion of broadband where it’s lacking by using a reverse auction that builds on last year’s CAF phase II auction. The Rural Digital Opportunity Fund would focus on areas currently served by “price cap” carriers, along with areas that were not won in the CAF phase II auction and other areas that do not currently receive any high-cost universal service support. The proposal includes raising the standard for broadband deployment from the CAF’s 10 Mbps/1 Mbps minimum to at least 25 Mbps/3 Mbps, with incentives for faster speeds. FCC commissioner, Jessica Rosenworcel, noted a parallel with building the nation’s electricity infrastructure, and said: “We need to begin with where infrastructure is and is not. We need to start with data. We need to develop maps. Of course, right now the FCC has broadband maps from operators. That’s good for starters. But we need to do a whole lot better. Our maps need to be more granular. Then, they need to be verified. I want us to test what we have here in Washington with spot checks in the field, challenges from local authorities, and data from consumer crowdsourcing. This mapping effort is not going to be simple, but it’s vitally important. After all, we will never manage what we do not measure.” Meanwhile a municipal broadband service in Fort Collins, Colorado went live for new customers today, less than 2 years after the city's voters approved the network despite a cable industry-led campaign against it. More here and Fort Collins here.

  • Monday, 16 September 2019

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