Rural Broadband Areas Defined for FCC $100 Million Experiment Fund

WASHINGTON—Around 10 percent of the country as defined by U.S. Census areal data is eligible for federal funding to create experimental broadband networks. The Federal Communications Commission this week released a list of the U.S. Census blocks—roughly the size of a city block—that would qualify for a piece of the $100 million fund the agency created earlier this month. The objective is to get broadband service to unserved and underserved populations, which are primarily rural. The commission’s map of the eligible areas has been updated with more detailed views.

The commission adopted an order and a proposed rulemaking July 11 that authorized rural broadband experiments. These, it divided into three categories defined by speed and cost.

Seventy-five million is dedicated for testing the construction of networks that do 25 Mbps down and 5 up, and another $15 million will go “to test interest in delivering service at 10:1 speeds in high cost-areas,” defined as those where the monthly cost per location of providing service is between $52.50 and $207.81. The third set of funds comprises $10 million for 10:1 service “in areas that are extremely costly to serve,” or those where service of at least 3 Mbps up and 768 kbps down is unavailable, and that would exceed $207.81 monthly.

Proposals in any of the three categories that serve only Tribal lands will received a 25 percent bidding credit. Project sizes will be capped to ensure a diversity of experimentation. The FCC is looking for experimental networks using “diverse technologies,” including fiber and wireless connectivity. Non-traditional service providers such as utilities may apply.

The project is being funded under the Administration’s $4.5 billion Connect America Fund, money diverted from the wireline-centric Universal Service Fund, a move opposed by local telcos but upheld by a federal appeals court in May.

The commission also is using the $100 million experimental broadband fund to develop a nationwide competitive bidding process for dispersing other Connect America Funds next year. The agency is seeking feedback on how the process can offer bidding credits when states provide matching funds for the expansion of rural broadband service.

The FCC initially announced its intention to finance rural broadband experiments in January, and received “over 1,000 expressions of interest from a wide range of entities proposing service over diverse technologies,” the commission said. The FCC identified 846,910 Census blocks out of around 8.2 million that qualify for some level of funding for experimentation. Final applications for experiments will be due 90 days after the commission releases a final order on the project, which it expects to do by the end of this year.

The Notice of Proposed Rulemaking portion of the July 11 Order is still open for comment.

The commission has previously supported a number of local broadband provision projects, many of them involving television white spaces. The community of Claudville, Va., went live with its own white-space broadband network in 2009, for example. However, incumbent carriers have started fighting back with state laws that prohibit or limit Internet service provision by municipalities or municipally owned utilities. The commission is getting contradictory signals from lawmakers, some of whom want it to trump state law using federal telecommunications law, while others are telling him to leave well enough alone. (See Jason Meyers’ coverage of this at Light Reading.)

Also see…
November 4, 2013,
N.Y. Community Builds White Space Wireless Broadband Network
Some time ago, a small Adirondack town, located some four hours from New York City, pegged its wish for community-wide wireless broadband communications on the availability of TV white space spectrum. That wish has now been granted.

July 12, 2013, “Virginia University Launches First ‘Super Wi-Fi’ Campus White Space Network
The network uses TV band white space frequencies to provide free public Wi-Fi access for students and faculty at Public Rapid Transit (PRT) platforms.

October 22, 2009, “Virginia Town Exemplifies White Space Usage
In surrounding Patrick County, pictured left, there are an average of 20 houses per square mile. Per capital income is $15,574.