FCC’S “CONNECT AMERICA FUND” AUCTION PROPOSALS NEED CHANGES TO PROMOTE BROAD PARTICIPATION, MAXIMIZE BENEFITS FOR RURAL AMERICANS
Washington, DC -- The Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) proposals for the upcoming Connect America Fund (CAF II) auction are a step backward from the goal of closing the urban-rural digital divide, according to the Wireless Internet Service Providers Association (WISPA).
The FCC’s proposals would govern the upcoming “reverse auction” in which companies will bid to receive portions of a $2 billion fund to support voice and broadband deployment in under-served areas over the next 10 years. The auction is scheduled for 2018.
However, in comments filed at the FCC, WISPA said the commission’s proposed rules are needlessly complex and restrictive, and if adopted will result in fewer broadband providers being deemed eligible to participate, “especially small providers that can quickly deploy cost-effective fixed wireless networks to targeted areas.”
Competition for funding will be reduced to a few large companies, winning bids will take larger chunks of the fund, and fewer areas will be funded, all outcomes that run counter to the goals of the CAF program, the WISPA filing said.
WISPA represents hundreds of small broadband providers that use fixed wireless technology to serve more than 4 million Americans in hard-to-reach areas. One of the sector’s ongoing challenges is overcoming the FCC’s tendency to impose complex and burdensome regulations on smaller providers that are a key part of the solution to America’s rural broadband needs.
“We’re at a loss to understand why the FCC is making this program so complex and difficult for experienced broadband providers, especially those that have track records of successfully serving rural areas with affordable service,” said WISPA President Chuck Hogg.
“Rather than using the auction to drive competitive bidding by making it easier for smaller providers to participate, the FCC’s plan would saddle them with eligibility and financial criteria and procedural complexity that will block many from participating,” Hogg said. “For example, the FCC is proposing to subject prospective bidders to financial criteria that some price-cap carriers, which already receive federal support from the same program, would not satisfy.”
“If these rules are adopted, too many rural communities will remain on the wrong side of the digital divide. The FCC can and must do better,” Hogg said.
Over the last two years, WISPA has promoted a framework for the auction that would be more technology-neutral, cost-effective, and performance-based. As the discussion moves forward, WISPA will continue to work with the FCC and all stakeholders to advocate for a fair and balanced auction for the subsidies.
Dale Curtis for WISPA
Tel: (202) 495-3701 (office) or 202-246-5659 (mobile)
WISPA is a membership-driven trade association that promotes the development, advancement and unity of the fixed wireless Internet service provider industry. WISPA has over 800 members that support WISPA’s advocacy, education and other collaborative industry initiatives. For more information, visit www.wispa.org.
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