FCC Chairman Ajit Pai acknowledged that the rules for the coming Phase II Connect America Fund (CAF) auction do not appeal to the satellite industry. He nevertheless asked satellite broadband providers, during a speech earlier this week, to enter the auction with the goal of closing gaps in rural broadband coverage.
“We are forging new ground with this first-of-its-kind auction, and in doing so we had to make some hard choices,” Pai said to an audience at the Satellite Industry Association’s (SIA) 21st Annual Leadership Dinner on Monday night. “But, I nonetheless hope that satellite companies will study this opportunity closely and choose to participate in the reverse auction.”
The Commission has set July 24 as the start date for the CAF reverse auction, which opens bidding for broadband infrastructure support for internet providers to fill coverage gaps left by incumbent price-cap telcos. The rules for the Phase II auction allow for satellite and fixed wireless providers to compete for support. However, the formula the FCC chose to assess competing bids from different last-mile technologies gives a strong preference to fiber-based solutions.
NRECA and NTCA were among several rural organizations that supported fiber-weighted analysis claiming that the Commission should invest in technologies that allow rural households to enjoy the same level of broadband service experienced in urban areas. Opponents, including FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly, said CAF support would be more effective if spent giving a larger number of homes access to somewhat slower broadband speeds.
We should know soon whether satellite providers take Chairman Pai up on his invitation. A filing window to participate in the CAF reverse auction opens on Monday, March 19, and lasts through March 30.
Also, during the SIA speech, Pai voiced more encouragement for non-geostationary satellite orbit (NGSO) systems. “Next-generation satellites are bringing new competition to the broadband marketplace and new opportunities for rural Americans who have had no access to high-speed Internet access for far too long. That’s why the FCC under my leadership has moved quickly to give a green light to satellite innovators,” he said.
The FCC already has approved plans to launch two NGSO constellations and Pai last month strongly endorsed a SpaceX plan that would eventually launch more than 10,000 satellites in low-earth orbits. “I hope the rest of my FCC colleagues will soon cast their votes as well,” he said.