WISPA Greatly Encouraged by FCC's RDOF and DODC Efforts to Decrease Rural Digital Divide
Washington, DC, August 1, 2019 – The digital divide is a persistent challenge which keeps millions of Americans shut out of our digital economy. It is especially tough for nearly 20 million rural Americans who lack access to FCC-benchmarked broadband services in their communities. Today, the FCC began to reshape its efforts to get all Americans online with the adoption of its Rural Digital Opportunities Fund NPRM (RDOF) and Digital Opportunity Data Collection Order and 2nd FNPRM (DODC). Though details still need ironing out, the Commission’s work here will ultimately reduce the rural-urban divide that undermines widespread American prosperity.
The RDOF proposes to adopt a two-phase auction framework to deliver $20 billion in support for bringing high-speed broadband service to millions of unserved Americans. It will do this through a technologically-neutral approach, focusing minimum support to broadband speeds of 25/3 Mbps, and giving greater support for faster speeds, such as gigabit service.
“The Commission should be commended for kicking off the RDOF,” said Claude Aiken, president and CEO of WISPA. “The investment being made here is massive, and the FCC properly recognizes the many technological paths that can be taken to get rural Americans online.”
The RDOF incorporates elements from the successful CAF Phase II auction, which resulted in 15 WISPA members being awarded subsidies. Until CAF II, WISPs had been excluded from accessing subsidies because they were not traditional telephone companies. The RDOF would moot this concern. “A CAF II approach means that our members, who serve four million individuals and businesses with fixed wireless broadband services, can play a prominent role in getting their communities into the digital economy,” added Aiken. “It will vastly extend the effectiveness of the program and will result in more rural Americans having high-speed broadband.”
Buttressing this proposal, the DODC Order and 2nd FNPRM establish a new data collection regime that will collect enhanced geospatial broadband coverage data from providers and inform decisions on where subsidies should be allocated. The Order also requires geospatial data of coverage areas via polygons, and then through the 2nd FNPRM, seeks input on refining that shapefile development, the creation of a broadband serviceable location fabric (BSLF), and the shapefile overlay onto the BSLF itself.
The BSLF adds a critical dimension of detail needed to comprehensively understand the extent of the digital divide. “This fabric is important because it will provide more accurate and granular information about where service is already available, so that future subsidies will target only those areas that currently lack broadband service,” said Aiken. “If adopted, costly and unwarranted overbuilds will be prevented, reducing both government waste and the stubborn absence of broadband in America’s heartland.”
Both the RDOF and DODC will require significant work to implement. WISPA remains greatly encouraged by the Commission’s steps, taken thus far in both proceedings, to address the rural divide.
WISPA’s approximately 800 members are composed of fixed Wireless Internet Service Providers (WISPs) and the industry that supports fixed wireless broadband, including equipment suppliers, support services, and other components needed to run a successful business. Our members, and WISPs, in general, provide broadband access to over 4 million residential and business customers, often in exclusively rural areas.