FCC’s Rural Broadband Expansion

The FCC is taking steps through the Connect America Fund to implement the next phase of its rural broadband program. Phase I of the Fund invested over $438 million to deploy broadband service to 1.6 previously unserved rural areas, invested $300 million to expand advance mobile wireless service, and provided nearly $50 million to improve mobile voice and broadband on Tribal lands.

Phase II of the Connect America Fund will provide nearly a 70 percent increase in annual support for broadband and voice service in areas served by the largest traditional providers also known as “price cap” carriers. This effort will expand broadband access to an additional five million Americans and over five years will provide nearly $9 billion to expand broadband in rural areas.

The FCC is exploring other proposals to see whether to more than double the download speed required for subsidized broadband networks from 4 Mbps to 10 Mbps. Also, because there has been rapid private sector expansion of 4G LTE mobile broadband service since 2011, the FCC is exploring whether to retarget Mobility Fund Phase II. This would be done to ensure that the continued deployment and preservation of 4G LTE mobile broadband service would be provided in areas that otherwise would not have this service.

In addition, later this year “price cap” carriers will be given the opportunity to accept Connect America Fund support in high cost areas based on detailed local cost estimates calculated by a cost model. Incumbent carriers must choose to accept or decline the offer of support for all high-cost locations they serve in a given state. If they decline, the subsidies will be made available to other providers awarded through a Phase II competitive bidding process.

To ensure the success of the competitive bidding process, the FCC is allowing non-traditional providers, such as cable operators, satellite providers, and electric cooperatives to become eligible for support to benefit consumers living in the nation’s most remote and difficult to reach areas by increasing flexibility for those who wish to provide service in these regions.

 

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