Over the weekend, Roger Wicker (R-MS), chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, posted an Instagram video outlining his legislative priorities as Congress returns to session this week. Among those priorities is to “speed up” the pace of the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) Phase I reverse auction. The FCC has scheduled that auction for $16 billion in funding to provide broadband in unserved areas for Oct. 22.
Rural broadband coverage is “important to recovery from the Corona virus pandemic because it’s so important to education to the people who still have to home school. It’s important to telemedicine,” Wicker said.
Broadband providers nationwide are currently preparing their short form applications to enter the reverse auction, including many rural telephone and electric companies. Applications likely will be due early this summer. Several NRTC members have formed an RDOF Consortium to bid as a group for funding.
With so many steps remaining before the auction can begin, it is unlikely that the FCC will vote to move up the start date of the auction without a specific statutory mandate. Also, considering the amount of time it takes to win bidding at the reverse auction, follow through on long-form post auction paperwork, and eventually begin construction, it is unlikely that RDOF Phase I funding will have a direct effect on people dealing with the current COVID-19 crisis.
None the less, Wicker has been hearing from constituents about the immediate need for broadband. The Public Service Commission in Wicker’s home state of Mississippi last week sent the senator a letter urging faster action to send federal support.
“As we navigate these uncertain times in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the severe lack of broadband internet for all Mississippians has been brought to the forefront and cannot be overstated,” the PSC said, according to a report in the Tupelo Daily Journal. “Teachers and students are conducting distance learning. Health care professionals are relying on telemedicine … It is undeniable that the success of these efforts and functions rely on an essential service that simply does not exist.”
- Member Impact