As the FCC gets ready to hold an auction to provide grants to support service providers’ expansion efforts in hard-to-reach rural areas, several communities may still be left behind.
The regulator approved a reverse auction last May that will provide an additional $2 billion in funds to rural broadband providers via the regulator's CAF II program in an effort to accelerate growth.
In December, the FCC released the final list of areas eligible to get grant money under the Connect America Fund, a program that offers money to service providers and other entities to build out network facilities to support rural broadband services.
However, the data which was was based on 477 forms (PDF) service providers submit about their coverage areas, did not consider large rural areas.
What this means is that several rural areas, which have little if any broadband service, won’t be able to get the funding they need to get service.
“The new data suggests that 30 percent of the most-remote and hardest to serve parts of the country now have new internet service,” said Jonathan Chambers, a former FCC executive who now works at Conexon, a private consulting firm that works with rural electric co-ops seeking to expand into broadband delivery, according to a Motherboard report. “The FCC did release data 16 months prior that showed every census block eligible for funding, which is what I am comparing it to. What was really striking to me was the number of newly-served areas with broadband.”
When service providers fill out the 477 forms, they have to indicate any census block where at least one home could potentially get 10/1Mbps broadband service within “a reasonable amount of time.” According to the funding rules set by the CAF program, the region is considered served if it meets these criteria.
What’s troublesome about these rules is that today none of the residents in each of these communities might not have broadband access. And while a few houses could have access it does not represent an entire census block, meaning many communities won’t be able to get access.
The FCC, however, is standing by its data. Mark Wigfield, an FCC spokesman, told Motherboard that the data the data gives the regulator a picture of where it can best allocate the funds.
“While there are limits to any dataset, the FCC has worked continuously to improve the accuracy and timeliness of the data it uses to allocate Connect America Fund support,” Wigfield said. “Chairman Pai’s top priority is closing the digital divide, and he will continue to work tirelessly to reach that goal through the upcoming auction and the auctions that will follow it.”