Stirring the Pot: Rural Development Opportunity Fund (RDOF)

As originally posted on the Blandin on Broadband blog

Community broadband advocates need to take a look at the Rural Development Opportunity Fund (RDOF) funding that will be made available via the latest FCC’s funding program for rural broadband.  Communities should engage with their preferred provider partners now to encourage them to bid for this available funding.  A preferred partner is one whose deployment plans line up with your community’s vision for future broadband service rather than a provider using these funds to meet today’s minimum broadband standards similar to the CAF II 10 Mb/1 Mb debacle.

Over $20 billion is available and only areas that lack 25 Mb/3 Mb funding, using the current FCC maps, are eligible.   Eligible areas can be found here: https://www.fcc.gov/reports-research/maps/auction-904-preliminary-eligible-areas/ along with GIS data tables.  There are large blocks of eligible areas in northeast, east central, southeast and southcentral Minnesota.  One interesting aspect of the reverse auction process will be to reward providers who commit to providing higher speeds and lower latencies.  Frankly, this whole process is very complicated.

A significant barrier to effectively using these funds is the patchwork of eligibility.  The funds would be a great building block in a collaborative funding plan, combining provider, local and state funds with federal funding to cover a wide geographic area.  County and regional broadband planners would do well to commit local funding to their preferred provide partner which would increase their ability to bid confidently on these federal funds.

Smart legislators would empower the DEED Office of Broadband to reserve some of their funds supporting providers chasing RDOF funds.  I hope that they are talking about this.  With a prospective DEED application window in September and the October FCC auction, the timing seems compatible.  Combined, these funds could be used to ensure widespread deployment of fiber to the home networks, especially since so many of the eligible areas are not idea for wireless deployment.  This would be a great opportunity to push the “Minnesota Model” to a new level of innovation.

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