Also in this roundup: FCC announces qualified applicants for RDOF; Ofcom investigates BT; NAO says no to UK 2025 fiber target.
The state of Wisconsin kicked off its Broadband Connectors Pilot Program with the selection of six communities to benefit from broadband expansions. The program emerged from a task force – comprising ISPs, tribal representatives, lawmakers and educational institutions – assembled by Governor Tony Evers in July to address the state's broadband disparities. As reported by the Daily Cardinal: "The joint Broadband Connectors Pilot Program will help localities apply for federal, state and private-sector broadband expansion funds. The selected communities include: the Lac du Flambeau Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians, the Ho-Chunk Nation, the School District of Owen-Withee, the Town of Cross, St. Croix County and Fond du Lac County." According to Wisconsin's Broadband Plan, released in 2019, the state aims to connect all homes and businesses to broadband speeds of 25 Mbit/s by 2025. Stats from BroadbandNow put Wisconsin in 30th place in the US for broadband coverage.
After months of playing hard to get, the FCC has finally accepted SpaceX into its heart with the declaration that the company can, indeed, bid in the upcoming rural broadband auction. Previously, the FCC had cast doubt upon Starlink's latency abilities, which put the satellite broadband company on the "incomplete" list (ouch). However, with the green light, SpaceX – owned by a billionaire cartoon villain Elon Musk – will now participate as one of 386 ISPs for $16 billion in funding from the FCC's Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF). Additional qualified bidders included in the FCC's announcement this week are Altice USA, CenturyLink, Charter, Hughes, US Cellular, Verizon and Windstream, among others. The auction starts on October 29.
UK telecoms regulator Ofcom has launched an investigation into BT for possibly overcharging rural residents. According to the Guardian, BT (which owns Openreach) is legally obligated to provide all homes and businesses with a connection of at least 10 Mbit/s and to bear the cost up to £3,400 (US$4,395). However, the concern is that in harder-to-reach areas, where connections are more expensive, BT has been willing to provide broadband only if the customer is footing the additional bill. The Guardian writes of its own reporting on the matter: "The Guardian has highlighted a number of cases of BT demanding huge connection charges. In one, a customer in High Peak, Cheshire, was quoted £100,000 to upgrade in a one-line email from BT. Another, in Woodbridge, Suffolk, was quoted £70,000 to connect to 10Mbps broadband. One customer, near Okehampton, Devon, who was also quoted £70,000, asked for a breakdown of costs and was told that no more information could be provided."
On that costly note, more cold water was tossed on UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson's pledge to connect every premises across the nation to high-speed broadband. The UK's spending watchdog, the National Audit Office (NAO), released a report today in which it estimates that to reach the 2025 target, build rates will have to increase fourfold. As Iain Morris writes on Light Reading: "Last year, less than a tenth of homes had access to the full-fiber networks that Johnson favors. Extending these across the country would cost billions and be hard to justify to investors. Existing laws around construction permits remain a further obstacle." (See Boris broadband plan is way off pace, says UK spending watchdog.)
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