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Verizon, SpaceX, CenturyLink, Charter among FCC's RDOF bidders

The FCC released its initial list of companies and other entities interested in participating in its massive $20.4 billion Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF), which is designed to provide government money to telecom companies willing to build Internet networks in rural areas.

Noteworthy names among the dozens of entities registering interest appear to include Verizon, SpaceX, Windstream, Altice, Charter Communications, Cox Communications, Frontier Communications, Starry, ATN International, Consolidated Communications, Hughes Network Systems, Rise Broadband, Atlantic Broadband, Midco, Mediacom Communications, Redzone Wireless, CenturyLink, Rise Broadband, U.S. Cellular and Viasat. Other, smaller companies on the list include a wide range of regional and rural telecom providers ranging from Miwave to Mercury Wireless to Paul Bunyan Rural Telephone Cooperative to Shenandoah Cable Television to Union Telephone Company.

The FCC appears poised to accept a wide range of participants. For example, cable companies like Altice and Cox are listed alongside telecom providers like CenturyLink and Verizon, while fixed wireless providers like Redzone and Rise Broadband are also listed. Importantly, satellite Internet providers like Viasat, SpaceX and Hughes Network are also on the list.

The FCC has expressed some concern about whether new providers like SpaceX – which has not yet launched commercial low-Earth orbit (LEO) satellite Internet services – should be allowed to participate in the RDOF. But after some lobbying by SpaceX, the FCC appears to have allowed the company to participate.

T-Mobile and AT&T confirmed they will not participate in the RDOF. A Comcast executive said in July the company would not participate.

The FCC's release of initial interested entities is a first step in the agency's overall process. Next, the agency must release a final, official list of bidders. Then the FCC will launch the first phase of the RDOF event, Phase 1, in October. That first phase will allocate $16 billion for roughly 6 million homes and businesses in census blocks that the agency said are entirely unserved by voice and broadband. Bidders must supply services of at least 25Mbit/s download speeds.

The FCC's RDOF program is a reverse auction where companies and entities that submit the lowest bid for covering a particular area win – however, then they're on the hook to cover that area with broadband services.

The FCC's initial list of interested RDOF participants includes entities with both complete and incomplete applications. However, entities with incomplete applications will have a chance to submit completed applications.

The exact identity of RDOF participants is sometimes difficult to discern because some companies participate under "bidding entity" names that may not align with their corporate brand. For example, Rise Broadband is participating under the Skybeam bidding entity.

Mike Dano, Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies, Light Reading | @mikeddano

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