FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said yesterday that he has completed a draft order establishing the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF), the universal service program to spread broadband to unserved rural areas that will replace Connect America Fund (CAF) Phase II. The other four commissioners have received the draft and are reviewing it for a vote planned for the next FCC monthly agenda meeting on Jan. 30.
“The new Fund will provide up to $20.4 billion over the next decade to support the deployment of high-speed broadband networks in those parts of rural America that currently lack fixed broadband service that meets the Commission's baseline speed standards” Pai said in a blog post. The chairman said that RDOF, like CAF, will be distributed in two phases through reverse auctions. RDOF Phase I will distribute up to $16 billion and will cover geographic rural areas that the FCC has confirmed as unserved.
“And then, once we complete our efforts to update our broadband maps to more precisely identify connectivity gaps, we will move forward with Phase II, which will cover unserved households in census blocks where some households are served, as well as areas that don't receive funding in Phase I,” Pai said.
Pai noted that members of Congress have asked for RDOF to be a “forward-looking” program to cover rural needs in the future. “That's why, in addition to more than doubling the minimum speed required of bidders in the Connect America Phase II auction, I'm proposing a significant additional measure to favor the deployment of faster services,” he said. “Once the reverse auction in Phase I hits the clearing amount of $16 billion, a bid to provide faster service to an area will automatically be chosen over a competing bid to provide slower service to that same area.”
The current minimum speed for universal service funding eligibility is 25 Mbps upstream and 3 downstream. The draft RDOF rules will give preferences to bidders proposing 50/5 Mbps, 100/20 Mbps and 1 Gbps/100 Mbps.
The FCC has been working on RDOF rules for nearly a year. President Trump and Pai announced plans for the program during a White House event in April 2019.
Update, Jan. 10: The FCC has released this draft text of the RDOF order.