Looking to bring broadband to more parts of the country, the U.S. Federal Communications Commission will soon vote on whether to create a $20.4 billion fund to support fast internet service in underserved areas.
The Rural Digital Opportunity Fund, on the agenda for the agency's Jan. 30 open meeting, will target areas lacking access to broadband speeds of 25 Mbps for downloads and 3 Mbps for uploads through a reverse auction in two stages.
The first phase would allocate up to $16 billion to "wholly unserved" areas, where no single address in a given census block has access to 25 Mbps/3 Mbps service. For the second phase, the FCC will allocate a minimum of $4.4 billion for unserved households in partially served areas. The FCC will use a new granular mapping program, known as the Digital Opportunity Data Collection, to target these locations. The money will be distributed over the course of 10 years.
The FCC has estimated that about 6 million homes and businesses could be eligible for Phase I funding from the program. California, with its large population and landmass, has the most bid-eligible locations at 421,000, according to the FCC's preliminary state-by-state list. It is followed by Texas at 381,000.
"Our staff's initial estimate shows that in 25 states there would be more than 100,000 locations that would be eligible for Phase I of the Fund, and the benefits would be felt from the Pacific Coast to the Great Plains, and from Appalachia to the Gulf Coast," FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said in a news release.
Notably, locations in Alaska and New York are not eligible for funding because of previously established programs to fund rural broadband in these states.
Bidders in the reverse auction are expected to include a wide variety of entrants, including telephone companies, cable operators, small wireless service providers, some satellite operators and electric utilities.
The FCC has said it will prioritize support for services with faster speeds and low latency. It will also prioritize support to areas entirely lacking even 10 Mbps/1 Mbps broadband as well as rural tribal areas.