In conjunction with news about 5G development strategy, the White House and FCC recently announced the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) as a massive investment in expanding high-speed broadband access outside of urban areas. While its presentation and much of its coverage have made this fund seem like an afterthought, this could be a huge opportunity for fiber providers to expand their footprint. This article will highlight all the key details of this announcement that are known at this time.

Background

In more densely-populated urban and suburban areas, it can be easy to take high-speed internet for granted. According to the FCC, 97% of residents in these areas have access to high-speed fixed service. In rural areas, however, this falls to 65%, and down to 60% to Tribal lands. This encompasses an estimated 30 million Americans

The FCC has identified this disparity as a major obstacle to economic development and has made “bridging the digital divide” a key initiative. Previous and concurrent funding initiatives include the $1.488 billion second phase of the Connect America Fund (CAF II) and the Mobility Fund, which provides $4.53 billion over the next decade to develop wireless network services in otherwise unserved areas.

How Big Is the RDOF?

The RDOF will provide $20.4 billion in funding over the next 10 years, in what the FCC has claimed is its “single biggest step yet to close the digital divide.” Projects falling under this umbrella will be awarded by reverse auction, as CAF II initiatives were. Specific eligibility rules have not yet been announced.

How Fast Is “High-Speed”?

The FCC has set a minimum threshold for service of 25/3, or 25Mbps download and 3Mbps upload. This is a significant step up from past and current initiatives, which only require 10Mbps download/1Mbps upload.

When Will This Fund Be Available?

No official launch date has been announced yet, but the fund is expected to launch later in 2019 after a period of public comment. Champion ONE will provide a further update on this fund as details become available.

Champion ONE will be monitoring this fund on an ongoing basis. Subscribe to our blog to stay updated on this story as it develops.

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