Charter Communications has shed more light on its network expansion plan in rural areas, pledging to spend $5 billion to cover more than 1 million new customer locations in the coming years.
That dollar total is offset by the $1.2 billion Charter is getting via the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF). A big winner in phase I of the RDOF auction, Charter qualified to receive $1.2 billion in federal government support for deployments covering 1.1 million locations in parts of 24 states. With everything factored in, it appears that Charter's deployment would equate to roughly $4,545 per location.
Tied to the initiative, which builds on the cable operators' existing network expansion plans, Charter said it also intends to hire more than 2,000 employees and contractors to support the multi-state RDOF broadband deployment. That plan is heavily weighted with deployments of fiber-to-the-premises (FTTP) networks that will be used to connect unserved, largely rural communities.
The cable operator noted that the networks built in these rural areas will support speeds of 1 Gbit/s to all newly served customer locations, with speed offerings to start at 200 Mbit/s. Charter also pledged that broadband service in these areas will be free of data caps, modem fees and annual contracts.
In addition to baseline broadband service, Charter will also market service packages that include its pay-TV, voice and new Spectrum Mobile service.
Deployment speed hinges on pole permitting, other processes
Charter said preparation for the RDOF phase I buildout is underway and that includes the aforementioned expansion of its existing construction organization. The expansion will take multiple years to complete, but Charter but has yet to pinpoint a precise, anticipated end date or offer other data-specific buildout milestones. Timing on that is still fuzzy as Charter works through pole-permitting and other processes it needs to complete in order to get network deployments rolling.
With fewer homes and businesses located in rural areas, broadband providers need to access multiple poles for every new location served, as opposed to multiple homes per pole in higher-density settings, the operator added. Pole applications, pole replacement rules are all factors that can impact how long it will take to build in these rural areas.
"The more cooperation we have with the pole owners and utility companies, the faster we can connect these communities with high-speed internet services," Tom Rutledge, Charter's chairman and CEO, said in a statement. "We look forward to working with local municipalities, electric cooperatives, and investor-owned utilities to ensure that permits are obtained in a timely, fair and cost-effective fashion."
Under the terms of FCC requirements, RDOF recipients have six years to deploy to winning locations. For most winners, that six-year build window, per each state, starts on December 31, 2021.
Charter declined to comment when asked about its intentions to participate in RDOF's phase II auction. Phase II will make available at least $4.4 billion to target partially served areas, including census blocks where some locations lack access to broadband speeds of at least 25 Mbit/s down and 3 Mbit/s, along with census blocks unawarded in the phase I auction.
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— Jeff Baumgartner, Senior Editor, Light Reading