The FCC released the results of the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund auction, which show that bidders won funding to deploy high-speed broadband to over 5.2 million unserved homes and businesses, almost 99 percent of the locations available in the auction. Moreover, 99.7 percent of these locations will be receiving broadband with speeds of at least 100/20 Mbps, with an overwhelming majority (over 85 percent) getting gigabit-speed broadband. CCO Holdings, LLC (Charter Communications) was assigned the most locations, just over 1.05 million. A total of 180 bidders won auction support, to be distributed over the next 10 years.
A broad range of providers successfully competed in the Phase I auction, including cable operators, electric cooperatives, incumbent telephone companies, satellite companies, and fixed wireless providers. And the FCC’s structuring of the reverse auction yielded significant savings, as competitive bidding among over 300 providers yielded an allocation of $9.2 billion in support out of the $16 billion set aside for Phase I of the auction. Importantly, the $6.8 billion in potential Phase I support that was not allocated will be rolled over into the future Phase II auction, which now can draw upon a budget of up to $11.2 billion in targeting partially-served areas (and the few unserved areas that did not receive funding through Phase I).
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said, “We structured this innovative and groundbreaking auction to be technologically neutral and to prioritize bids for high-speed, low-latency offerings. We aimed for maximum leverage of taxpayer dollars and for networks that would meet consumers’ increasing broadband needs, and the results show that our strategy worked. This auction was the single largest step ever taken to bridge the digital divide and is another key success for the Commission in its ongoing commitment to universal service. I thank our staff for working so hard and so long to get this auction done on time, particularly during the pandemic.”
The auction used a multi-round, descending clock auction format in which bidders indicated in each round whether they would commit to provide service to an area at a given performance tier and latency at the current round’s support amount. The auction was technologically neutral and open to new providers, and bidding procedures prioritized bids for higher speeds and lower latency.
The auction unleashed robust price competition that resulted in more locations being awarded at less cost to Americans who pay into the Universal Service Fund. The 5,220,833 locations assigned support in the auction had an initial reserve price of over $26 billion over the next decade; through vigorous competition among bidders, the final price tag to cover these locations is now just over $9 billion, with the vast majority of locations receiving gigabit broadband—far above the 25/3 Mbps minimum level of service that providers could bid on in the auction.
Providers must meet periodic buildout requirements that will require them to reach all assigned locations by the end of the sixth year. They are incentivized to build out to all locations as fast as possible.
The Rural Digital Opportunity Fund Phase I auction is part of a broader effort by the FCC to close the digital divide in rural America and focus limited universal service funds on unserved areas that most need support. In October 2020, the Commission adopted rules creating the 5G Fund for Rural America, which will distribute up to $9 billion over the next decade to bring 5G wireless broadband connectivity to unserved areas in rural America.
More information on the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund Phase I auction is available at https://www.fcc.gov/auction/904, including complete auction results and a map of winning bids.
The more things change, the more they stay the same
One would think that as often as the carriers get caught with their hand in the cookie jar, at some point they would get wise. However, it appears some mega-corporations might have lying and cheating woven into their DNA.
What brought on this missive, you ask? Well, it was the business as usual with Verizon, T-Mo and US Cellular.
One year ago, the agency launched an investigation into whether one or more major carriers violated the Mobility Fund Phase II reverse auction’s mapping rules and submitted incorrect coverage maps. The investigation uncovered some disconcerting news. These three were found to have misled the FCC on their 4G rural footprint coverage.
Why this matters is two-fold. First, it is your money being stolen. Second, it is a crystal-clear indicator of the companies’ moral compass. What makes this even worse is that the FCC will do nothing! Talk about inbreeding among the FCC and the carriers.
To be fair, the FCC has slapped the hand (and trust me, it has never been more than a slap) of carriers from time to time. But the slap was so mild, the carriers barely flinched. This has shown the carriers that, in the event they do get caught, the penalty is laughable, and does nothing to curtail such future behavior.
Quickly, the Government Mobility Fund is a resource that is used to support the stratification of 4G services in rural and underserved areas. In theory, the fund offers cash to carriers to offset the losses so often present in providing service to low-density deployment areas. That allows such area to gain access to the services offers in denser (and profitable) markets. Written into the agreement is the caveat that telcos receiving funds must provide accurate coverage maps to ensure the funds were being used for the exact purpose intended.
However, true to these particular carriers’ DNA they lied. The investigation, prompted by smaller, rural telcos complaining the nationwide players were exaggerating coverage maps, found that the aforementioned carriers, indeed, exaggerated footprint numbers. I suspect they were spending some of it on what it was supposed to be spent on. The bottom line is that these telcos were, simply, lying to the FCC and the general public (what a shock!).
The news that they fudged and lied about it does not surprise me. The fact that the FCC is not entertaining any penalties is a bit surprising, but not, altogether, unexpected. What really angers me is that the FCC has allowed these three bumpkins to simply develop another initiative to apply for another government hand-out to the tune of $9 billion! To quote a source that wishes to remain anonymous, “This is perhaps the latest example of a toothless watchdog [the FCC], with the bureaucrats in possession of the same spine as a lifeless slug.”
Adding insult to injury, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai was quoted as saying, “We want to make sure that rural Americans enjoy these benefits, just as residents of large urban areas will. In order to do that, the Universal Service Fund must be forward-looking and support the networks of tomorrow. And, in true government style, he added that “I will move forward as quickly as possible to establish a 5G Fund that would bring next-generation 5G services to rural areas…”
You have got to be kidding me. The fact that the FCC simply glossed over this and has no intention of any punitive measures is just ridiculous. However, are any of us really surprised that the accused 800-pound gorillas will be able to thumb their noses at these regulators and the tax-paying public and get away with spending taxpayer’s money in such an irresponsible manner? Apparently, the FCC is just ignoring all of this as well as doing nothing to ensure that such abuses do not reoccur.
Apparently, some carriers are comfortable enough to carry out such transgressions at their whim. Why not? Even if they get caught, fines are nothing more than a minor nuisance. Obviously, they have no fear of government regulators, the FCC in particular.
Two things come from this scenario. First, if carriers cannot be trusted to do what is right with the original billions of dollars, what makes anyone think they will not just rinse, and repeat the same program with the next $9 billion. Such flagrant disregard for both regulation and honesty is appalling and simply encourages the telcos to keep on lying and cheating without fear of reprisal.
Second, the fact that the FCC has chosen to simply ignore this and then has the audacity to add MORE money to the coffer, again, without ANY repercussions of the perpetrators, is also appalling.
How long it will take for these and other telcos to find another way to scam tax dollars and what will the FCC’s response will be?
ANCHORAGE, Alaska, June 10, 2015 /PRNewswire/ — This summer, General Communication, Inc. (GCI) (NASDAQ:GNCMA) will upgrade its networks in rural Alaska. These upgrades will support increasing demand for terrestrial broadband service and substantially improve mobile wireless service in numerous rural communities.
First, GCI will increase the backbone capacity of TERRA, its terrestrial broadband network, from Levelock to Bethel by deploying new microwave radio technology. Second, GCI will deploy 3G wireless data service in 28 rural Alaska communities (listed below).
Upgrade work began on June 8 and is expected to continue throughout the summer.
“The TERRA and 3G upgrades confirm GCI’s ongoing commitment to rural Alaska,” said Greg Chapados, GCI’s executive vice president. “The upgrades will fortify the TERRA backbone, increase network efficiency and enable faster Internet speeds for wireless customers. Access to up-to-date communications technology increases opportunity for rural Alaska residents and businesses.”
The TERRA upgrade is expected to be complete by June 19. During the upgrade, GCI Internet customers on the TERRA backbone from Levelock to Kotzebue may notice some slowdown in upload and download speeds. As a courtesy, GCI customers in the affected communities will be mailed a voucher for $25 off their monthly bill. Mobile wireless voice and data services should not be affected during the TERRA upgrade.
The 3G upgrade is supported by an award from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) called Tribal Mobility Fund Phase 1. As part of the award, GCI will deploy 3G and 4G wireless services to a total of 48 rural Alaska communities by 2018.
GCI is the largest Alaska-based and operated integrated telecommunications provider offering voice, data and video services statewide. Learn more about GCI at www.gci.com/about.
Rural Alaska communities to receive 3G wireless data service in 2015:
Goodnews Bay Hooper Bay
Mountain Village Mekoryuk
Nunam Iqua Pilot Station
Pitkas Point Quinhagak
Russian Mission Scammon Bay
Shaktoolik St. Marys
Togiak Toksook Bay
CONTACT: David Morris, GCI, (907) 265-5396, [email protected]
May 7, 2015 — I had the honor of moderating a panel on “The Changing Economics of the Rural Broadband Build Out” at last week’s Wireless Infrastructure Show. I found it helpful to begin the conversation with a look at how rural cellular operators make economic sense of providing the 4G services that make LTE towers a necessity.
Nationwide LTE roaming agreements with the major carriers are a signature cornerstone, giving regional operators access to vital spectrum and to phones that allow them to compete with the Big Four carriers. For example, Ketchikan Public Utilities, in April, launched a 4G network in Ketchikan, Alaska, a major cruise ship port, as a participant in the Verizon Wireless’ LTE in Rural America program.
Started in 2010, the program currently has 21 participants, 18 of which have launched 4G LTE networks covering more than 2.2 million people and 62,000 square miles. Rural carriers lease 700 MHz Upper C block spectrum from Verizon Wireless and build and operate their own 4G LTE radio networks. Verizon also throws in access to its evolved back core in with the deal, which I will touch on more below.
Last September, 15 rural network carriers were added Sprint’s Rural Roaming Preferred Provider program, giving them low-cost access to Sprint’s nationwide 4G LTE network and access to an expanded line of the latest, smartest phones. The program now includes 27 carriers, extending coverage in 27 states, over 565,000 square miles and a population of more than 38 million people.
Hosted and Managed Services
If roaming agreements are the cornerstone, hosted and managed services are the brick and mortar for rural operators, giving them access to network core equipment that would cost millions dollars to own. This brings 2G, 3G and high speed LTE broadband to areas with little population. Shared Evolved Packet Core is available from NewCore Wireless, NetAmerica Alliance, GlobeComm and ClearSky Technologies, among others others.
Small Cell as a Service (SCaaS), offered by ClearSky Technologies, allows regional wireless operators to cost-effectively address a number of operational coverage challenges with small cells, usually thought of as only an urban solution. The more services that can be offered over the infrastructure the better for rural operators. Hosted managed services also provide asset management and vehicle tracking, as well as WAP, SMS, MMS and voicemail. Additionally, hosted M2M services allow operators to provide enterprise-specific services in areas that have more cows, rows of corn or oil derricks than people.
Ericsson Brings LTE to Rural Alaska
A great example of hosted services bringing big city data speeds to the hinterlands, General Communication, Inc. has just signed a deal with the wireless technology and services side of Ericsson, to bring high-speed fixed and mobile connections to the oil fields of Alaska’s North Slope. GCI has begun construction and installation of a wireless data network, which will include a total of nine sites spanning more than 3,738 square miles, an area larger than the size of Delaware and Rhode Island combined. The new LTE network puts GCI on the leading edge of technology with downloads of 30 Mbps, supporting advanced oil field data requirements.
“Ericsson is proud to help GCI bring LTE to the most remote and isolated oil producing area in North America. We believe that the high-speed data network that GCI is building will greatly improve the productivity, safety and reliability of oilfield operations,” said Angel Ruiz, head of Ericsson North America, said in a press release.
According to the consensus at the Wireless Infrastructure Show, without broadband build out rural America will disappear. That makes hosted and manage services, as well as data roaming agreements lifelines to the future of our rural areas.
The FCC has awarded several companies with a total of nearly $50 million to provide 3G and 4G wireless systems in unserved rural areas through the Tribal Mobility Fund.
The biggest winner, General Communications was selected to receive $41.4 million to serve more than 37,000 Alaskans across 48 communities. Copper Valley Wireless also received funding for Alaska projects. Additionally, Commnet Wireless, Smith Bagley and Triangle Communication System also were awarded funding for tribal communities in other states.
The FCC announced in April 2013 it would provide one-time support to companies committed to building 3G or 4G mobile broadband networks in underserved tribal communities. The fund will provide support for projects across the nation, with wireless carriers in Arizona, Montana, New Mexico and Utah also submitting winning bids.
GCI expects to deploy the enhanced service within two or three years depending on construction schedules and the type of technology deployed. It must first file a long form to the FCC for approval before it can go ahead with construction.
In 2012, GCI and Alaska Communications merged their wireless assets in order to better compete with Verizon Wireless and AT&T. Their combined spectrum holdings include 115 megahertz in the 850 MHz, 1.9 GHz and 2.1 GHz bands. Today, GCI has more than 141,000 subscribers and has coverage of 95 percent of the population.