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NRECA and NTCA Seek “Collaboration” of RDOF and ReConnect Programs

Randy Sukow

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Two of NRTC’s founding organizations, NRECA and NTCA, The Rural Broadband Association, are banding together to ask the FCC to reverse its existing policy and award universal service funds for broadband service together with U.S. Department of Agriculture loans.

The federal government has aimed both programs toward building broadband service in unserved areas while avoiding funding overlap. But NRECA and NTCA say the FCC should “promote  collaboration  between [the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF)] program and the ReConnect program administered by the Rural Utilities Service [RUS],” according to a joint ex parte letter to the Commission yesterday.

In January, the FCC set a policy to avoid awarding RDOF support to census blocks in areas that already are receiving ReConnect support or financing through state programs. “We don’t have unlimited funding and so one thing we cannot do in good conscience is waste this opportunity,” Chairman Ajit Pai said at the time. The RDOF Phase I reverse auction, planned for Oct. 22, will distribute about $16 billion over 10 years to provide broadband in unserved areas. The FCC has not announced a start date for a Phase II auction for more than $4 billion.

NRECA and NTCA propose that the Commission examine its preliminary list of census blocks eligible for RDOF funding and identify which ones are receiving ReConnect loans. The FCC then would eliminate bidding on those census blocks for all reverse auction participants except for the providers receiving the ReConnect loans.

“Such a policy would enable the RDOF and ReConnect programs to work in concert and for the RDOF  to  provide  much-needed  support  to  enhance  the  deployment  and  aid  in  the  sustainability  of  broadband-capable networks, while avoiding the prospect for potential conflict or overbuilding concerns as between these critical federal programs,” the associations said.

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