FCC throws an $18B bone to rural broadband

Funds intended to support carriers for more than 15 years

The US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has authorized more than $18 billion to be paid to carriers to expand rural broadband.

The sum is to be spent over 15 years starting on January 1, 2024, and is part of the snappily named Enhanced Alternative Connect America Cost Model (Enhanced A-CAM). Some 328 carriers from more than 44 states are in line for the funds.

In return, the FCC expects the companies to deploy broadband service of at least 100/20 Mbps – 100 Mbps down and 20 Mbps up – to more than 700,000 locations and maintain or improve the existing service to approximately 2 million locations.

The FCC is no stranger to awarding funds for rural broadband development. In 2022, the agency awarded $800 million, with Illinois and Arizona getting the lion's share of the pot. In July 2023, the FCC adopted an order to establish the A-CAM program to bring fast broadband to some of the more challenging-to-reach parts of the US.

The FCC move comes as SpaceX took the number of orbiting satellites in its Starlink constellation past the 5,000 mark following Monday's launch of a Falcon 9, which carried another 23 units. The total number of operational satellites is likely slightly lower.

In 2022, the FCC opted against giving Starlink a billion dollars in rural broadband subsidies, a slightly odd decision considering that one of the goals of Musk's constellation was to bring internet connectivity to where the infrastructure was lacking. At the time, the FCC expressed concern over the developmental nature of Starlink and questioned if throwing dollars at the tech was the best use of limited Universal Fund dollars.

The UK has continued to make progress in connection its rural – and not-so-rural – areas via Project Gigabit, launched in 2021. The latest update, published in September 2023, reckoned that 77 percent of the UK had access to gigabit-capable broadband, not far off the 85 percent target by 2025.

Gigabit broadband is planned to be nationwide by 2030, and the UK government has promised £5 billion ($6.08 billion) to subsidize rollouts to the "hardest to reach" premises – mostly in rural areas. ®

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