After the close of the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) in December 2020, Congress in January urged the agency to thoroughly vet the winning bidders to ensure the money wouldn’t be squandered. But with funding yet to be distributed seven months down the line, two key Senators have asked the FCC to explain what’s taking so long.
Senators Roger Wicker and John Thune put the question to Acting FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel in a recent letter, pressing her for a status update on efforts to review the auction winners’ long-form applications. Wicker is the ranking member on the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation and Thune the ranking member of the Subcommittee on Communications, Media and Broadband, which oversee the FCC.
While the politicians said they “fully support a thorough review of long-form applications,” they noted “months have passed” without a progress report from the FCC or any comment on when it plans to hand out RDOF funding.
They gave Rosenworcel until July 29 to provide details about how many applications have been approved and denied so far, how many FCC staff are involved in the review process, whether the FCC plans to review all applications before awarding funds or issue money on a rolling basis, and when it expects to complete the review process.
“Each day that the Commission spends vetting long-form applications is another day that unserved Americans go without the high-speed broadband that is essential to everyday life,” they wrote. “We urge the FCC to move quickly to finish this process and begin authorizing support to winning bidders.”
An FCC representative told Fierce it has received and is reviewing the letter, but did not provide any detail about when it expects wrap up its application review.
In addition to the original applications, the FCC is likely sorting through a pile of comments and waiver requests that have flooded in since the winning bidders were announced in December. Notably, various parties including the Minnesota Telecom Alliance and the Iowa Communications Alliance have pressed the FCC to reject the long-form application of the auction’s top winner, LTD Broadband, arguing the company doesn’t have the expertise or resources to fulfill its coverage commitments.
Meanwhile, Charter Communications, which was the second largest winner in the auction, in May asked to be let off the hook for certain buildout obligations in Massachusetts, Kentucky, Missouri, Virginia and Wisconsin after finding some areas it is slated to cover already have service. Redzone Wireless similarly put in a waiver request after determining coverage it promised to provide in Maine with $500,000 in RDOF funds would be redundant.
The Competitive Carriers Association recently warned the FCC up to $1 billion in RDOF funds could be improperly allocated to locations which already have broadband service, arguing the coverage data used to determine eligibility for the auction was inaccurate.