Is your census block being served by an unsubsidized broadband provider? That's the question the FCC is putting to the test with the start of the Connect America Phase II challenge process.
The goal of the Connect America Fund is to provide $1.8 billion in ongoing annual financial support for organizations trying to extend broadband connectivity in high-cost areas. However, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) doesn't want to subsidize efforts in regions that are already being well served by commercial network providers. As a result, the agency is relying on a map of census blocks deemed eligible for funding based on three criteria.
Eligible areas must be considered unserved by an unsubsidized competitor, meet the qualifications for designation as a high-cost region, and be located in a "price cap" territory where existing providers are already contending with network access lines that are price-regulated.
The challenge process only applies to the first funding criterion. Parties submitting challenges must file with the FCC by August 14.
The Connect America Fund is a hot-button issue because current broadband providers don't want to run up against competitors that have what they see as unfair financial advantages. As such, the FCC is trying to walk a fine line between extending broadband service and not stepping on the toes of existing cable and telecom operators.
Many broadband providers, meanwhile, have been aggressive about trying to keep competitors at bay, whether they receive government funding or not. These efforts include encouraging state-level legal restrictions on community-owned broadband services. Some legislators are fighting back against those restrictions. Most recently, several Democratic members of Congress sent a letter to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler urging him to promote competition and allow communities to decide for themselves how to invest in local broadband infrastructure. (See Dems Urge FCC Action to Protect Muni Nets.)
For the Connect America Fund challenge process, the FCC is pointing citizens to its online challenge process guide. The agency will review all submissions at the end of the 45-day challenge period.
— Mari Silbey, special to Light Reading