FCC Chair Proposes Rural Digital Opportunity Fund
(The following is an excerpt of recent remarks by FCC Chairman Pai)
I'm sharing with my fellow commissioners a draft order that would establish the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund, a modern approach for connecting those hardest-to-serve corners of our country.
The new Fund will provide up to $20.4 billion over the next decade to support the deployment of high-speed broadband networks in those parts of rural America that currently lack fixed broadband service that meets the Commission's baseline speed standards. To maximize the impact of these investments, we will use a multi-round, descending-clock reverse auction. The Commission used this same reverse-auction approach in 2018 for Phase II of our Connect America Fund, and it helped us fund the deployment of high-speed broadband to 713,000 unserved rural homes and businesses for just 30% of our projected cost.
And we don't want millions of rural Americans to wait longer than necessary to obtain the economic, educational, and healthcare opportunities provided by high-speed broadband. That's why I'm proposing that we divide the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund into two phases. Phase I would provide up to $16 billion to fund the deployment of high-speed broadband in census blocks where we know that there's not any service available meeting the Commission's baseline speed standards. Based on our initial estimates, almost 6 million homes and businesses in rural America would be eligible for Phase I of the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund. And then, once we complete our efforts to update our broadband maps to more precisely identify connectivity gaps, we will move forward with Phase II, which will cover unserved households in census blocks where some households are served, as well as areas that don't receive funding in Phase I.
We also want to prioritize the deployment of broadband networks that will meet the needs of tomorrow as well as today. Congress has called on the Commission to fund sustainable and forward-looking networks that will stand the test of time. I agree. That's why, in addition to more than doubling the minimum speed required of bidders in the Connect America Phase II auction, I'm proposing a significant additional measure to favor the deployment of faster services. Once the reverse auction in Phase I hits the clearing amount of $16 billion, a bid to provide faster service to an area will automatically be chosen over a competing bid to provide slower service to that same area.
The Rural Digital Opportunity Fund has the potential to transform the lives of millions of our fellow citizens in rural America and revitalize parts of our country that are currently being left out of our digital economy. That's why I hope that my colleagues will join me on January 30 in supporting this bold initiative.