Federal Programs for Rural Broadband
Due to factors including large distances between households and difficult terrain to build on, there can be enormous costs to build broadband networks in many rural communities. Federal programs, sometimes including public-private partnerships, offer ISPs some support to expand their networks and can be beneficial when properly implemented.
Getting Networks to People’s Homes
Since the business case for deploying broadband to unserved rural areas is challenging, government subsidies can play a role in achieving universal broadband availability. The challenge has been to develop a subsidy regime that targets the right amount of support to areas that do not have service from any provider and are unlikely to be served without support and to ensure that the regime does not allow for waste, inefficiency, and a lack of accountability. To bridge the broadband gap, we need to ensure these programs focus on the unserved, are technology neutral and encourage participation by a wide range of qualified broadband providers, and are structured in a way that safeguards federal dollars.
A new loan and grant program through the USDA that is using public-private partnerships to usher faster and more efficient broadband deployment to areas that need it most.
Opportunity Fund (RDOF)
An FCC initiative that allocates $20.4 billion to provide broadband in unserved areas.
Connect America Fund (CAF)
An FCC program that provides funding to assist with the cost of creating and operating broadband networks for consumers and small businesses in unserved high-cost areas.
An FCC program that provides low-income consumers a discount on broadband service from participating providers.
How Can Federal Programs Work Better for
More Broadband Buildout?
Target scarce funds where people lack service, not on funding a second competitor in areas that already are served. Better broadband maps will help with this, so the FCC should implement the mapping requirements of the Broadband DATA Act to ensure that areas without broadband are more precisely identified.
Implement competitive bidding processes in government programs that maximize participation by qualified broadband providers on projects, and also maximize the best return on funding used in these subsidy programs. Using a “reverse auction” competitive bidding process will connect the most unserved homes, for the least per home subsidy, at the highest speed.
Remove regulatory impediments to broadband deployment, such as permitting delays and excessive pole attachment rates by municipalities and co-ops, and encourage “dig once” policies, will help accelerate buildout.
Let all ISPs participate in federal programs without favoring a particular technology. Federal initiatives should also remove outdated, anti-competitive, and burdensome regulatory barriers to provider participation, such as the legacy telephone-focused Eligible Telecommunications Carrier (ETC) requirement.
Have a coordinated approach through the FCC that directs federal resources toward achieving the nation’s universal service goals.
Demand accountability in federal support programs to ensure that subsidies achieve their intended results.