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FCC Ready to Fund $311 Million Broadband Deployment to 36 States

July 27, 2021 by Victoria Turner

The Federal Communications Commission announced yesterday that it is ready to release more than $311 million in funding for high-speed broadband deployment across 36 states through its Rural Digital Opportunity Fund. 

Working to clean up the RDOF “waste” such as winning bids to deploy in areas that are already served, FCC Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel added the agency is shifting gears to focus on the unserved areas.

The winning bids from the FCC’s Auction 904 were required to submit long-form applications by Jan. 29 and submit their required final financial statements – like letters of credit from an FCC-accepted bank and certification letters per state in which they won a bid – by Aug. 9. As of February, there were 417 long-term applicants, but the long-form applications are still being reviewed on a rolling basis and this number may change. 

The $311 million authorized, which Rosenworcel described as a “significant down payment on broadband deployment,” will go to those providers that have met all the requirements to be approved. 

“And for those applicants who are dragging their feet or can’t meet their obligations, follow the rules or we will disqualify you and move on,” she warned. 

Coinciding with the release of this first round of RDOF funding since the program’s 2020 adoption, the agency is slapping the wrists of those previous winning bidders who failed to deploy broadband to areas to which they had committed. The agency promised penalties and freeing up those defaulted bids for other providers. The FCC staff is continuously reviewing these long-form applicants for defaults. 

Each default bidder could be subject to a $3,000 base forfeiture fine per violation per census block group assigned in the winning bid, up to 15% of the default bidder’s total assigned funding. The long-form applicants were supposed to also provide the agency with initial audited financial statements by June 7, and those who did not meet this first deadline could be subject to a base fine of $50,000. These forfeiture penalties can be upwardly or downwardly adjusted per FCC guidelines. 

In its cleanup efforts, the FCC also sent letters to 197 winning bidders, giving them a chance to withdraw from well-served areas without penalty, while simultaneously rejecting deadline waiver requests for providers who did not put forth the good effort to gain the state opinion letters. 

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