$55 million in rural broadband grants cancelled by FCC

3 February 2015 by Steve Blum
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FCC avoids a “resource-intensive effort”

The FCC chopped 16 more applicants from its rural broadband experiment program. By removing uncertainty as to the outcome, FCC staff is making a mockery of the experiments, creating the appearance that they want an easy ride, rather than a rigorous process designed to test prospective rural broadband systems and business models. Without the possibility of failure, it’s not an experiment and the lessons learned will be meager.

Last month, 37 winning bidders in the subsidy competition were announced. Six either pulled out or missed a key deadline, leaving 31. Of those, 15 asked for waivers of financial and technical requirements, and one just sorta ignored deadlines. Last week, FCC staff decided not to grant the waivers

We conclude that strict enforcement of the deadlines and filing requirements adopted by the Commission is appropriate given the accelerated time frame for the rural broadband experiments. Granting such relief would preclude consideration of other applicants that were able to submit the requisite financial and technical showings within the time frame established by the Commission. Denying the waiver requests and proceeding to identify next-in-line bidders fulfills the Commission’s objective for the rural broadband experiments to inform key decisions that the Commission would be making regarding the design of the competitive bidding process that will occur in Phase II of the Connect America Fund, while not delaying implementation of Phase II.

The FCC now has an extra $55 million to hand out, and it will look at the next best bidders to see if they qualify. Forty-eight companies (and other “entities”) are still in the running, but also have financial hurdles they need to clear first. The new list of winners will be announced later.

All three of the Californian companies on the FCC’s original list were among the 16 axed last week. That includes two companies – De Novo Group and Cricelli, Inc – that are involved in projects in the Salinas Valley, here in the central coast region. In reading through the list of the remaining 48 possibles, only company names are given, not project locations or other information, but none jump out as being from California.