By Karl Bode and Ry Marcattilio-McCracken
The FCC’s Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) Reverse Auction was completed a little more than a year ago to much fanfare and spilled ink, and though we’ve seen irregular updates over the last twelve months, we thought it worth the time to round up what we know so far in an effort to see where we’re at and determine what is likely to come.
The RDOF was built to award up to $20.4 billion in grants over 10 years using competitive reverse auctions generally won by the lowest bidder. The money comes from the Universal Service Fund fees affixed to consumers’ monthly telecom bills. The previous FCC announced $9.2 billion in auction winners in December of 2020.
To date the FCC has announced five rounds of Authorized funding released, six rounds of applicants whose bids they have decided are Ready-to-Authorize, and three rounds of Default bids. In total, a little more than half of the $9.2 billion won during the auction has been handed out as of January 14th, 2022, with another $1.3 billion announced on January 28th as ready to be disbursed shortly.
It’s clear that the final picture is still taking shape, but looking at things a year later leaves us feeling a little better than we were immediately after the auction closed. To date, it appears the FCC is closely scrutinizing many of the bidders that most worried industry veterans and broadband advocates, while releasing funds for projects that will bring future-proof connectivity to hundreds of thousands of homes over the next ten years.
Moving Slowly on Problematic Awards
The biggest news so far is that of the top ten winners, seven look to have received no funds at all (see table below or high-resolution version here). That’s $4.1 billion worth of bids for almost 1.9 million locations, and includes LTD Broadband, SpaceX’s Starlink, AMG Technologies (NextLink), Frontier, Resound Networks, Starry (Connect Everyone), and CenturyLink. This is a big deal.