CHARLESTON, WV (WOAY) – U.S. Senator Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee and the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, today applauded the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) announcement today of the 386 applicants—including five local providers in West Virginia—are qualified to bid in the upcoming Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) Phase I auction. The approved local provider applicants include, Citynet, Digital/PRODIGI, Gigabeam, Hardy Telecommunications, and Micrologic.
According to the FCC, the number of qualified bidders represents a more than a 75 percent increase in the number of bidders in 2018’s successful Connect America Fund Phase II auction and also includes bidding consortia that contain multiple service providers. Qualified bidders will compete to receive up to $16 billion over ten years to provide broadband to wholly unserved areas, with priority given to bids for higher speeds (up to 1 Gbps) and lower latency.
“In order to improve connectivity in West Virginia, we need to make sure we have every single opportunity available to do so,” Senator Capito said. “One of those opportunities is the upcoming RDOF reverse auction. I’m thrilled several local providers in West Virginia were part of the group of applicants announced by the FCC today that have been approved to participate in the auction. This next step brings each of these providers closer to the possibility of receiving financial support from the FCC that will assist in broadband deployment, helping us better connect West Virginia. While we can all agree that more granular data is needed—and we are working as we speak to improve these broadband maps—it’s important to seize this opportunity instead of holding off. This will be a gradual process, but it will result in progress toward better-connectivity.”
Last month, Senator Capito hosted a rural broadband summit where she spoke with FCC Chairman Ajit Pai about the status of the RDOF Auction and the progress of applicants moving toward the completed application state. Following this update, Senator Capito held a series of discussions with leaders from various broadband provider companies petitioning to bid in the upcoming RDOF reverse auction administered by the FCC. During these provider discussions, Senator Capito received feedback on the status of their applications.
Also last month, Governor Justice announced plans for the West Virginia Economic Development Authority (WVEDA) to provide assistance for potential RDOF applicants through the issuance of loan insurance on a letter of credit issued by a federal insured depository institution. The letters of credit are required by FCC rules in order to participate in the RDOF program and the applicant must be able to have the letter of credit open to cover disbursements until compliance with certain milestones are completed and verified. In order to ensure that West Virginia applicants who are working with local financial institutions are able to meet this requirement, Governor Justice announced that WVEDA will provide loan insurance for these letters of credit. The intended effect is to minimize the risk for a local financial institution to work with applicants seeking to bid in the RDOF auction. The governor’s executive order removes a statutory cap of $50 million on the WVEDA broadband loan insurance fund and a per-company limitation of $10 million.
The RDOF is one of the most ambitious steps the FCC has taken towards bridging the digital divide, which will provide $20.4 billion over the next 10 years for high speed fixed broadband service to rural homes and small businesses. The largest portion of these funds—$16 billion—will be made available for Phase 1 of RDOF. Phase II will make available the remaining $4.4 billion that will also be deployed through a reverse auction at a date yet to be determined. According to the FCC, West Virginia has over 121,000 initially eligible locations for Phase 1 funding that are completely unserved with voice and 25/3Mbps or higher broadband.
Recently, Senator Capito spoke on the Senate floor about the importance of RDOF and rural broadband. Click here to watch the speech.