FCC opens $300M fund to boost rural broadband access

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) this week unveiled a $300 million fund to extend broadband to as many as 400,000 previously unserved homes, businesses and anchor institutions.

Created by the regulator last October, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said the Connect America Fund (CAF) was a "once-in-a-generation reform of the Universal Service Fund" that will connect all Americans with broadband Internet by the end of the decade.

CAF is designed to "unleash the benefits of broadband for all Americans, regardless of where they live, and consistent with fiscal responsibility," Genachowski said.

Service providers have 90 days to respond to the first phase of the CAF, which includes aggressive build-out requirements.

The FCC said in a release that, under the program, service providers will supplement CAF funding with their own private investment, as they've done with the broadband stimulus program.

Although service providers aren't required to participate in the program, the FCC claims that hundreds of thousands of Americans will gain access to broadband, even if providers only accept a portion of the funds.

CenturyLink (NYSE: CTL), a service provider that serves a mix of urban and rural markets, supported the FCC's USF and Intercarrier Compensation (USF/ICC) reform efforts.

"CenturyLink appreciates the Federal Communications Commission's reconsideration of some important aspects of its USF/ICC transformation order," said Steve Davis, CenturyLink's senior vice president of public policy and government relations in a statement.  "This reconsideration order will help companies like CenturyLink deliver broadband services to more customers in unserved, rural areas--a goal we share with the Commission."

For more:
- see the release

Special report: Fiber hunter: How to improve Internet access by digging up forgotten fiber lines

Related articles:
FCC chair says Universal Service Fund won't subsidize competition
New FCC public-private initiative builds on past broadband adoption efforts
Verizon, Sprint, USTelecom fight Universal Service Fund reform
Consumer groups question whether FCC's Lifeline program reforms go far enough
Rural telco groups want the FCC to rethink its USF reform program