FCC releases more details on RDOF auction applicants

The RDOF long-form application identifies companies that bid under unfamiliar names in the auction. (Image by RitaE from Pixabay)

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) released information about 417 companies that submitted long-form applications in the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) auction. The long-form applications were due at the end of January.

The additional information, which is in a spreadsheet, identifies the long-form applicants and lists the number of census blocks and locations, as well as support amounts, by state, for each applicant.

What’s interesting about RDOF long-form application list is that it separates out individual members that bid as part of a consortium and identifies companies that bid under unfamiliar names in the auction. As a result, the list of winning bidders has now more than doubled. For example, the Rural Electric Cooperative Consortium, which was awarded $1.1 billion to provide high-speed broadband to 22 states and across 618,000 locations, is actually made up of more than 30 different applicants according to the FCC’s long-form applicant list.

Phase 1 of the RDOF reverse auction ended last year and in December the FCC announced that it had tentatively awarded $9.2 billion in funds to a variety of companies including telecom service providers, cable operators, electric cooperatives, fixed wireless providers and satellite companies.

The FCC said the structuring of the reverse auction yielded significant savings, as competitive bidding among bidders yielded an allocation of $9.2 billion in support of the $16 billion set aside for Phase I. The $6.8 billion that wasn't awarded in Phase I will be rolled over into the future Phase II auction, which now has a budget of up to $11.2 billion for targeting partially-served areas as well as the remaining unserved areas that did not receive funding through Phase I.

Related: The biggest RDOF winner LTD Broadband responds to naysayers
Related: Windstream CEO: RDOF outcome uncertain for some of the biggest winners

Since the FCC announced the list of winning bidders last December there have been questions about whether some of the winners will be able to meet the requirements for delivering gigabit speeds. In its reverse auction, the FCC drove down the price of its item —awards to deploy broadband —by having multiple bidders compete against each other to provide the best technology at the lowest price.  In addition, there was a provision in the FCC’s auction rules that created a clearing round where the bidding system looked at the performance and latency promises of bidders in a census block and eliminated the inferior bidders from the proceeding. Because of this, some groups, such as electric co-ops believe they may have been eliminated.

And it’s caused many to question whether the remaining winners will actually be able to do what they promised. For example, LTE Broadband was awarded $1.3 billion in the RDOF auction but the company has pledged to provide gigabit speeds to rural areas using fixed wireless technology. In addition, it says it will lay fiber when necessary to fill in the gaps. But some say that fiber is cost prohibitive to deploy, particularly in rural areas.

But LTE Broadband isn’t the only winner prompting some skepticism.  Winning bidder SpaceX said it plans to use low-Earth orbit satellite technology to deliver 100 Mbps services, which some experts say will be difficult to do.