Possible Solutions for RDOF Defaulters: Insights from New Mexico and Beyond

Possible Solutions for RDOF Defaulters: Insights from New Mexico and Beyond

New Mexico's Broadband Office Proposes Unused RDOF Funds be Granted to State Offices

Drew Lovelace, acting director for the New Mexico Office of Broadband Access and Expansion, suggested that the unused funds from the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund(FDOF) should go to state broadband offices according to comments submitted by nearly 70 broadband experts, trade associations, internet service providers, state and local officials, non-profits, schools, and unions to the FCC on Tuesday (April 10, 2024). These comments were made concerning the proposed amnesty period for winning bidders of two federal broadband expansion programs by the commission.

Granting Amnesty to Winning Bidders

If the FCC grants the amnesty period, companies that are either unable or unwilling to fulfill contracts made under the FCC's Rural Digital Opportunity Fund or the Connect America Fund Phase II would be able to relinquish some service commitments without facing the full penalties stipulated by the program guidelines. The majority of commenters supported the commission evaluating amnesty requests on a case-by-case basis where the bidders demonstrate that the project buildouts are not economically feasible. However, a few commenters, notably the American Consumer Institute, and the WTA–Advocates for Rural Broadband strongly oppose the idea of post-auction relief.

Use of Unused RDOF Funds

NEK Community Broadband proposes that if the returned RDOF auction funds cannot be turned over to the FCC to invest in census block groups affected by granting amnesty they should be directed towards the Affordable Connectivity Program. Multiple industry groups expressed their views on how reduced penalties should be enforced among FCC comments. NTCA-The Rural Broadband Association proposed that the commission should apply only the per-location penalty under the RDOF and CAF II rules without adding an extra 10 percent penalty. USTelecom highlighted the need to provide a substantial incentive to providers to return areas they would be unlikely to build while still ensuring they are accountable for their decisions.

Mandated Quarterly Progress Reports

To improve transparency regarding the status of RDOF deployments, the New Mexico broadband office suggested that the FCC mandate winners submit quarterly progress reports detailing network deployment timelines, planned technologies, and service offerings. Quarterly progress reports could help the commission provide more detailed information regarding how many locations might be impacted by the proposed amnesty period, and whether transferring these locations into the Broadband, Equity Access, and Deployment program would be in the public interest. As outlined in BEAD program guidelines, communities that have previously obtained grants from other federal broadband initiatives, including the RDOF, and CAF II, are ineligible from accessing any portion of the funding allocated under BEAD.

BEAD Mapping Challenge

The FCC's proposal to grant amnesty is especially pertinent as most states prepare to commence their mapping challenge process under the BEAD program in the first half of the year. This challenge process will ultimately determine the final map used by states to allocate BEAD funding. If the FCC approves the requested amnesty period, states could include currently unserved or underserved communities not accounted for due to unmet RDOF and CAF II commitments in state maps, making these areas eligible to receive BEAD funding. The New Mexico broadband office recommends that the first progress report be submitted by May 31, as this deadline coincides with the mapping challenge process for the BEAD program.

No Eligibility for BEAD Money

A major consideration for commenters was whether RDOF defaulters should be permitted to participate in and bid for BEAD. ACI's comments state that "If the commission does decide to grant amnesty, no auction winner who has previously failed to honor its commitments should be eligible to receive BEAD money." The Mississippi Center for Justice similarly recommended that the commission and other federal agencies prevent these awardees from applying for other federal broadband infrastructure grant programs for a set period of time. Additionally, MCJ suggested that the commission increase penalties for defaults after a certain deadline and work towards obtaining these guarantees by Summer 2024 which coincides with BEAD mapping challenge processes.

Originally Post From https://broadbandbreakfast.com/what-to-do-about-rdof-defaulters-some-ideas-from-new-mexico-and-others/

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