The Federal Communications Commission today proposed additional funds for rural broadband and unveiled new data-collection methods -- including crowdsourcing -- for a more accurate map of broadband deployment around the US -- a tool it expects to use for the second phase of its digital divide efforts.
In what the agency calls its "biggest single step to date" to ensure rural residents have fixed-access broadband, the FCC wants to establish the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) to direct up to $20.4 billion over a decade to expand broadband across unserved rural regions. The fund would make more areas eligible for support and, in a move widely demanded by regional providers, requires faster service than last year's Connect America Fund Phase II (CAF II) reverse auction. In fact, it would ensure "millions" more rural premises have gigabit speeds, the FCC said.
"The Commission should be commended for kicking off the RDOF," Claude Aiken, president and CEO of WISPA -- which represents about 800 wireless ISPs -- said in a statement. "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."
In its notice of proposed rulemaking, the Commission requests comment about expanding broadband to unserved areas via another reverse auction. RDOF would target those regions served by price-cap carriers currently receiving CAF II model-based support but without speeds of 25 Mbit/s down and 3 Mbit/s up; districts without a winning bid in the CAF II auction and those without any high-cost universal service support.
In related news, the FCC established the Digital Opportunity Data Collection to gather geospatial broadband coverage maps via polygons from fixed broadband providers in their territories. This database is designed to simplify and accelerate the agency's ability to target funding for needy areas via its programs, including the proposed RDOF if finalized.
In today's "Report and Order and Second Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking," the FCC also adopted a crowdsourcing portal for data from everyone from consumers to tribal and state or local officials. This method, in use by several non-government sources, was popular with multiple providers and organizations. (See Pai: FCC Must Crowdsource Broadband Map.)
Through the second Further Notice, the FCC seeks input on refining that shapefile development, creation of a Broadband Serviceable Location Fabric (BSLF) and the shapefile overlay onto the BSLF itself, WISPA's Aiken said.
"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," he said. "If adopted, costly and unwarranted overbuilds will be prevented, reducing both government waste and the stubborn absence of broadband in America's heartland."
The FCC's move also would make "targeted changes" to Form 477, a step designed to reduce operators' reporting costs and time, and incorporate new technologies such as location-based solutions.
The FCC's new data collection process will begin once the US Office of Economics and Analytics issues a notice announcing the availability of the new collection platform, along with new reporting deadlines.
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