Frontier says E-rate funding should not fund middle-mile overbuilds

Frontier Communications is ready to serve rural school districts with its own last mile services but says the FCC should not extend funding to other competitors to overbuild where they already provide service.

Last July, the FCC voted in favor of modernizing the 18-year-old subsidy program that brings Internet services to schools and libraries.

In an FCC filing, Frontier said that the regulator should take advantage of the fact that Frontier and other ILECs serving "rural areas have already deployed fiber deep into rural America."

"The Commission should not waste scarce E-rate funding to overbuild existing middle-mile fiber when companies like Frontier have already invested the intensive capital necessary to provide it," wrote Frontier in an FCC filing. "Instead, the Commission should focus its efforts on determining how the existing fiber facilities that Frontier and other ILECs have in place today can bring the desired services to all schools and libraries, including those in rural areas."

Being a provider that's focused primarily on rural markets, the company has a mix of both fiber and copper-based facilities that can support high-speed Ethernet services for schools.

In its territory, Frontier currently has 17,260 schools and libraries that are located in 2,242 of its 2,662 total wire centers.

It added that 95 percent of these schools and libraries are located in wire centers that can provide a fiber-based Ethernet connection. As long as each school has a last mile fiber connection, they can get a 1 Gbps speed.

For the remaining schools, Frontier said its wire centers support "very high capacity scalable broadband to schools and libraries with the addition of Ethernet equipment and the provision of a last-mile fiber connection."

Despite Frontier's claims, some emerging fiber-centric providers like Fatbeam say they should also be able to get access to funding to offer school districts more choice.

Fatbeam has been focusing primarily on serving the education and enterprise market by building out its own fiber network. Today, its network is presence in five states--Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Washington and Wyoming.

"High-speed broadband deployment in rural areas should be a focus of E-rate funds," wrote Fatbeam in an FCC filing. "There are those who say this would create over-builds. If the goal is the availability and the choice of high-speed broadband types to all schools and libraries, incentivizing high-speed broadband in rural communities is the fastest way to reach the near term goal of high-speed broadband to and within schools and libraries. Demand and the market will take care of overbuilding concerns."

The service provider added that the fastest way to increase rural school access to broadband will be by making "additional support available to schools and libraries not having reasonably priced high-speed broadband today."

For more:
- see Frontier's FCC filing (.pdf)
- here's Fatbeam's filing (.pdf)

Related articles:
FCC dedicates $2B to bring broadband to schools, libraries
Report: Idaho owes $14.5M to CenturyLink, Education Networks for running statewide education network
FCC approves move to revamp E-rate funding program
Fatbeam's EMAN acquisition ups Washington State fiber presence