Windstream moves to tap into FCC's EBB and RDOF money

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Windstream's Kinetic made clear it is ready to use Emergency Broadband Benefit money whenever the FCC is ready to release it. (Pixabay)

Windstream is looking to leverage funds from two Federal Communications Commission programs as it expands broadband Internet and related services to new markets and customers.

Kinetic, Windstream’s community broadband business, announced that it plans to participate in the FCC’s $3.2 billion Emergency Broadband Benefit program, which the federal agency recently approved.

The FCC has not yet announced an official start date for that program, but it is due to begin within 60 days. It is specifically targeted at U.S. households that have struggled to afford internet service during the months of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Jeff Auman, executive vice president of sales and marketing for Kinetic, said in a company statement, “As soon as the FCC is ready to take this program live, we are ready to implement it so any eligible customer in our 18-state footprint who needs internet service can get and stay connected.”

Kinetic said it will issue a bill credit of up to $50 per month towards broadband service for eligible customers, while its customers on Tribal lands will be eligible for $75 per month. To be eligible, customers must meet at least one of the following criteria:

  • Have experienced a substantial loss of income since Feb 29, 2020, subject to certain requirements
  • Currently qualify for free and reduced lunch
  • Have received a federal Pell Grant in the current award year
  • Meet the eligibility criteria for a participating provider’s existing low-income or COVID-19 program
  • Currently qualify for Lifeline services (this benefit may be received in addition to a wireless benefit)

Meanwhile, Windstream also announced this week that it submitted an application to the FCC’s Rural Digital Opportunity Fund in hopes of accessing $147 million over 10 years to deliver fiber-to-the-home internet services to more than 48,000 locations in Georgia.

“This is an exciting opportunity to further expand our fiber network in Georgia, enabling us to bring gigabit-speed broadband to rural communities that would have been too expensive to serve without a public-private partnership,” said Michael Foor, Windstream’s vice president of state government affairs in Georgia, in a statement.

Foor noted Windstream has invested more than $525 million over the last six years to expand broadband availability in Georgia. At the end of 2020, 500,000 households qualified for speeds of 25 Mbps or higher. In addition, Windstream deployed gigabit speeds to 100,000 locations in 2020, bringing the total in Georgia to 150,000. The company will continue to invest in its gigabit network in 2020 and beyond.

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Windstream won $523 million in funding over 10 years from the RDOF Phase 1reverse auction, and has been eager to get started on new projects. In recent months, equipment vendors also have been eyeing the prospects for revenue boosts tied resulting funding. Unlike previous federal broadband projects like the Connect America Fund, the RDOF program was expected to favor mid-tier service providers like Windstream and Charter Communications over much larger operators.