Exterior of FCC building
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SOURCE: InsideTowers.com

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai Monday circulated among his colleagues draft procedures for the upcoming $16 billion Phase I Rural Digital Opportunity Fund auction (Auction 904). With financial support from the auction, providers will expand broadband service to millions of unserved homes and businesses in rural areas. 

Pai plans to hold the Commission vote on finalizing the procedures at the agency’s June 9 meeting. Auction 904 is the first phase of the Commission’s $20.4 billion Rural Digital Opportunity Fund initiative, which is modeled on the Connect America Fund Phase II auction in 2018. Bidding in Auction 904 is scheduled to begin on October 29.

“We’ve designed this auction to ensure robust participation, with incentives for bidders to build high-performance networks so we get fast broadband to as many as six million American homes and businesses that aren’t currently connected,” said Pai. “The COVID-19 pandemic highlights the need for the Commission to continue its work to ensure that all Americans have access to high-speed broadband as soon as possible. That’s one reason why we’re moving full speed ahead with the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund.”  

The draft auction procedures strike a balance between building sustainable networks that will meet the needs of the future while maximizing the number of locations that receive service. The auction targets census blocks that current data show are wholly unserved. Funds will be allocated through a multi-round reverse auction. 

The Rural Digital Opportunity Fund Phase I auction more than doubles the minimum speeds that providers must deliver to 25/3 Mbps. It prioritizes bids offering to provide even faster speeds (up to a gigabit) and lower latency. It will give those bids greater weight and award support to the bidder offering the best combination of speed and latency in each area once the aggregate price of all bids drops below the auction’s budget.  

The Commission held a webinar May 5, to provide an overview of proposed procedures for applications and bidding in the auction. On May 20, the Commission will hold another webinar to help state, local, tribal, and territorial government officials understand the auction framework, and provide tips for service providers that want to participate in the auction.

Here is the draft timetable for availability of materials and auction deadlines:

  • Online auction application tutorial would be available by June 15
  • Short-form application (FCC Form 183) filing window would open July 1
  • Short-form application (FCC Form 183) filing window would close July 15
  • Auction bidding tutorial would be available online by October 14
  • Mock auction would begin October 26
  • Auction would begin October 29 

Those wishing to participate in this auction would be required to submit the short-form application (FCC Form 183) electronically prior to 6 p.m. EDT, on July 15, and comply with all applicable Commission rules, including the requirement to abide by the FCC’s National Security Supply Chain proceeding.