The trade group WTA filed a letter with the FCC in relation to LTD Broadband’s pending award of Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) monies. WTA basically said LTD’s claims that it will be easy to lay fiber in rural areas are bunk.
LTD Broadband was the biggest winner in the RDOF reverse auction, snagging $1.3 billion to provide high-speed broadband to unserved areas of 15 states. Although it’s a wireless internet service provider (WISP) that often uses fixed wireless access (FWA) technology, the company has pledged to provide gigabit speeds to rural areas with its RDOF funds. And it’s promised to lay fiber when necessary to achieve those gigabit speeds, which may mean it will primarily be laying fiber with its RDOF money.
Many other companies that participated in the RDOF auction have cried foul about LTD’s winnings. They claim the company doesn’t have the track record to deliver gigabit speeds to rural areas, and they also say LTD has almost no experience laying fiber.
In response, LTD has claimed it will be much easier to lay fiber in rural areas because there are less obstacles than in urban areas.
WTA scoffs at this claim. WTA is a trade group that’s been around since 2004. It advocates for rural telecommunications companies on Capitol Hill, at the FCC and at other federal agencies.
In its letter to the FCC, WTA said, “LTD takes one very limited aspect of rural broadband construction and erroneously tries to inflate it into a comprehensive principle that rural fiber deployment is less challenging and less expensive.”
It said even if “a particular route mile of a rural broadband trunk may contain fewer gas, electric and sewer lines than an urban route mile, the distances between customer locations along rural broadband routes are many, many times longer.”
Often in rural areas, customer density is less than one customer per route mile and can regularly drop to 0.2 or 0.1 or fewer customers per route mile, according to WTA. “By itself, this much lower customer density constitutes a major reason why rural areas entail much higher costs and much greater challenges than urban areas with respect to broadband construction and deployment,” said the group.
WTA also said once the rural broadband trunk traverses the multiple miles between customer locations, the rural carrier also must construct drop lines to farm and ranch houses. While a long drop line in a town may extend 150 feet, a typical drop line in a farming or ranching area is likely to be 500 to 4,000 feet, and it is not uncommon for rural drops to extend several miles.
“As they are deployed along lengthy driveways and access roads, these drops must avoid some of the same utility lines as are encountered in urban areas,” wrote WTA. “In addition, in many rural areas, there are rural community, rural water district and private water irrigation lines that are not typically marked but must be located and avoided.”
Companies that participated in the RDOF reverse auction had to submit short-form applications. After the auction, the winners were then required to submit long-form applications, explaining in much more detail how they plan to spend their funds and also explaining their technology and business models. The FCC is in the process of reviewing and approving those long-form applications.
It has not yet approved LTD’s long form.
In April, LTD sent a letter to the FCC arguing its case.