The FCC is requesting public comment on a letter asking that the agency let providers default on RDOF and CAF II bids with limited penalties in order to make locations available for BEAD.

Nicole Ferraro, Editor, host of 'The Divide' podcast

March 6, 2024

3 Min Read
Court gavel resting on a pile of money.

The FCC's Wireline Competition Bureau has published a public notice opening a comment period soliciting responses to a letter filed last week requesting the FCC grant a short amnesty period to providers seeking to relinquish their awards through the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) and Connect America Fund II (CAF II).

As per the short notice, the Wireline Competition Bureau said it "seeks comment on a letter from 69 Internet Service Providers, Trade Associations, State and Local Officials, School Districts, Unions, and Civil Society Organizations.

"The letter requests that the Commission provide '[Rural Digital Opportunity Fund] and [Connect America Fund Auction] awardees who cannot or do not intend to build their networks a very short and expedited amnesty period of no more than a month that allows them to relinquish all or part of their winning areas without being penalized to the full extent that the Commission's rules provide'," reads the filing.

Comments are due March 26, 2024, and reply comments by April 9, 2024.

Some background

The letter in question was filed last week, on February 28, by a group of broadband industry groups, ISPs, community leaders and nonprofits. It came as concerns mount in broadband offices across the country that some providers may not fulfill their RDOF and CAF II obligations, whether due to high costs or otherwise.

Related:Broadband coalition asks FCC to grant RDOF relief for BEAD's sake

If those locations aren't released soon, they will not be eligible for funding through the $42.5 billion Broadband Equity Access and Deployment (BEAD) program. That would leave some of the least-served regions of the country without access to federal broadband funding. Thus, the group is requesting a brief amnesty period for RDOF and CAF II winners to release their awarded locations without stiff penalties, enabling states to award those locations through BEAD instead.

"Many of the RDOF and CAF II awardees who cannot or will not deploy their networks are located in states with the greatest connectivity needs, like Missouri and Mississippi. The Commission should not permit these unserved rural communities to face this type of double whammy and be left behind once again," said last week's letter.

In an email to Light Reading, one of the signatories on last week's letter, Gigi Sohn, executive director for the American Association for Public Broadband (AAPB), expressed gratitude for the FCC opening the public comment period:

"The broad and diverse coalition of ISPs, organizations, unions and government officials thank the FCC for acting with great urgency in seeking public comment on an issue that is critical to closing the digital divide in rural America," said Sohn. 

"Quite simply, the letter on which the FCC invites comment seeks to ensure that large swaths of rural America are not left out of Congress' huge investment in broadband. By giving RDOF and CAF II awardees a very limited period of amnesty in which they would not be assessed full penalties should they default, the FCC would be doing a great service to communities all over the US," she added.

"It will also aid state broadband offices, some of which have already sought waivers of NTIA's prohibition on providing BEAD funding  (Alabama and Florida) where other funding is already committed, and others (Arkansas), that have sent letters to awardees asking them to declare their intention to meet their obligations or default."

About the Author(s)

Nicole Ferraro

Editor, host of 'The Divide' podcast, Light Reading

Nicole covers broadband, policy and the digital divide. She hosts The Divide on the Light Reading Podcast and tracks broadband builds in The Buildout column. Some* call her the Broadband Broad (*nobody).

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