FCC awards $800m for rural broadband development

Illinois, Arizona and Iowa are the big winners in connection plan

The US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) says it's ready to disburse nearly $800 million to fund rural broadband deployments in 19 states, with Illinois, Arizona and Iowa getting just over half of the total pot. 

The FCC said it has already distributed more than $6 billion for rural broadband in 47 states through the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF). This round of funding [PDF], worth $792 million, will focus on using technologies that will "provide end-user locations with either fiber or fixed wireless network service using licensed spectrum," the Commission said. 

"We are confident these projects can bring quality service to currently unserved areas," said FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel. 

The huge investment will hopefully add broadband service to over 350,000 locations, the FCC said, and includes 2,072 approved bids that have been under consideration since 2020. Awardees have until September 15th to submit stand-by letters of credit and bankruptcy code opinion letters needed to finalize the payouts.

This particular RDOF cohort is the twelfth to be funded from a pool of entrants which once included Elon Musk-owned satellite internet company Starlink, which has marketed itself as an option for people living in rural areas. 

Starlink asked for $1 billion in RDOF subsidies, which the FCC rejected because it said Starlink didn't demonstrate it would be able to deliver on service promises. Funding Starlink "would not be the best use of limited Universal Service Fund dollars to bring broadband to unserved areas across the US," the FCC said. 

The cash allocated to the RDOF comes in large part from President Biden's infrastructure bill that was passed last November. The telecom industry was allocated $65 billion of the total $1.2 trillion in the bill, which the White House said would enable historic investment in broadband infrastructure. 

Earlier this summer, FCC Chairwoman Rosenworcel said existing broadband baseline speed requirements of 25Mbps down and 3Mpbs up were insufficient to meet the needs of the modern internet, instead proposing a 100Mbps down, 20Mbps up national service standard. The US is currently 14th in world broadband speed rankings, according to eedtest.net, and ranked 28th in terms of cost.

The FCC hasn't shared details on how it plans to accomplish such a speed increase, but future subsidies to ISPs could depend on their ability to keep up, if and when such a standard is enacted. ®

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