Group Urges FCC to Let ISPs Bail From Rural BroadbandFund
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Group Urges FCC to Let ISPs Bail From Rural BroadbandFund

Group Urges FCC to Let ISPs Bail From Rural Broadband Fund

 

An FCC fund meant to expand high-speed internet in rural America is now facing calls to let ISPs abandon the program without penalty.

On Wednesday, a group of trade associations, internet companies, and local community bodies sent a letter to the FCC, which says the agency’s Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) risks thwarting broadband rollouts in rural America.

“With a large number of RDOF projects projected to default, many of the least connected communities in the US risk being left without the financial support they need to bring critical connectivity to residents and businesses,” the group said in a statement.

The RDOF was supposed to award $20 billion to internet providers to build high-speed internet across the US. But last year, some ISPs began complaining that the federal funding they had received wasn’t enough, citing the soaring costs for optical fiber and building materials. This prompted a coalition of ISPs to formally request the FCC to grant them “amnesty” and let them bail from the program, without paying penalties.

On Wednesday, a group of trade associations, ISPs, and broadband experts including President Biden’s former pick for the FCC Gigi Sohn, further pressed the commission to offer the “brief” amnesty period. The goal isn’t leniency, but to ensure rural communities won’t suffer from ISPs defaulting on their commitments.

The letter points out that the US government is preparing a separate program, called the Broadband Equity Access and Deployment (BEAD), which will also award $42.5 billion to build high-speed internet in the US. The catch is that the BEAD program can’t distribute any funding to any ISPs that’ve already received funds from the FCC’s RDOF.

“Unfortunately, there are a large number of census blocks throughout the country where RDOF and CAF II ( Connect America Fund II) awardees have not even begun to build their networks for a variety of reasons,” the letter alleges. As a result, numerous communities could lose out on the broadband funding from both programs if an ISP with RDOF funding defaults on their commitments.

“The commission should not permit these unserved rural communities to face this type of double whammy and be left behind once again,” the letter adds. “Many RDOF and CAF II communities have been waiting for reliable broadband, or any broadband connectivity at all, for as long as the technology has existed.”

In a statement, Sohn also says: “The FCC has the power, and the duty, to ensure that no community is left behind simply because an RDOF or CAF II awardee cannot or will not build a network.”

The FCC didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

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