Last-Minute Change to FCC Rural Broadband Fund May Ban Grants for Millions of Unconnected AmericansJanuary 30, 2020
Today, the Federal Communications Commission voted to approve a Report and Order that would commit $20.4 billion from the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) to fund broadband deployment. In a dissenting statement, FCC Commissioner Geoffrey Starks objected to a sentence included since the initial draft of the Order was made public on January 9. The Starks dissent states: “The version of the Order now before us excludes from RDOF any area that the Commission ‘know[s] to be awarded funding through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s ReConnect Program or other similar federal or state broadband subsidy programs, or those subject to enforceable broadband deployment obligations.’” (emphasis in original)
The following can be attributed to Harold Feld, Senior Vice President at Public Knowledge:
“Read broadly, this surprise last-minute change impacts almost every state in the Union. Nearly every state either has its own broadband subsidy program, receives funds under the Department of Agriculture ReConnect program, or receives other federal funding for broadband.
“Even read narrowly, this would appear to cut off millions of unconnected rural Americans from a program designed explicitly to help them. According to a PEW Report published in December 2019, 35 states have funds that directly subsidize broadband. Numerous other states have funds that might qualify as a ‘subsidy’ or ‘enforceable broadband deployment obligations,’ depending on how the FCC Order defines these terms.
“Hopefully, publication of the Order will contain some sort of clarification. But even read as narrowly as possible, this change makes no sense. Connecting all of America will require the combined effort of every level of government — federal, state, and local. We should encourage states to take initiative and reward those that rise to the challenge. At least, we should not punish states by making them depend exclusively on underfunded federal programs doled out from Washington, D.C.”