Sen. Roger Wicker, the chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, is asking FCC chairman Ajit Pai to weigh in on how the FCC will speed the allocation of billions of dollars for rural broadband subsidies.
The FCC is scheduled to auction access to the first $16 billion (phase one) of the $20.4 billion Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF), starting Oct. 22.
Wicker points out that legislation, the Rural Broadband Acceleration Act (H.R. 7022), has been introduced to get money out even before that auction. It would direct the FCC to allocate money to applicants who were expected to be the sole bidder and who promised gigabit speeds. It would also require the FCC to start processing provider applications for the auction by July 31 (it could more quickly identify which sole bidders might be able to get money early).
Wicker said he has heard from providers in his home state who are ready to deploy in unserved areas--the first $16 billion is targeted to unserved areas--but need the subsidy money to do so.
The senator said expediting the funding could help close the digital divide. He said that while Congress is considering the bill and is cognizant of the legal and procedural constraints on modifying FCC rules already approved, Wicker wanted some questions answered--by June 12--to help them with the legislation.
They include how the FCC would modify the auction to meet accelerated deadlines or make awards of money early and when it will update its March 17 list of areas eligible for that phase one support.
Wicker's desire to advance the auction and funding is in contrast to a number of Democrats who have been arguing the auction should be delayed until the FCC can collect more accurate data on where broadband is and isn't.