Few Californian ISPs make the cut for FCC rural broadband subsidy auction

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At least 13 Internet service providers with some kind of presence in California qualified for the upcoming federal rural broadband subsidy auction that’s scheduled for next month. The Federal Communications Commission released the final list of qualified bidders in the Connect America Fund auction round yesterday. Nationwide, a total of 220 companies qualified, and 57 were axed.

None of the ISPs on the list are obligated to bid for rural territory in California. The FCC didn’t release any information on which states the companies are interested in. On the other hand, any of the 220 qualified companies might be interested in serving California. Or already be here – it’s possible I missed some when I went through the list.

The two major incumbent telcos – AT&T and Frontier – can participate. Frontier was apparently able to overcome its low financial rating, which was one of the FCC’s qualification criteria. AT&T is represented by its mobile unit, which is a good indication that it doesn’t plan to expand its wireline network in rural California, with or without subsidies. But you knew that. They’re joined by Consolidated Telephone, which has a small service area around Sacramento.

Comcast and Charter Communications aren’t participating, but two second-tier cable companies are on the list, Cox Communications and Suddenlink’s parent Altice. So are two satellite companies, Viasat and Hughes Network Systems.

Verizon and Windstream qualified as bidders. Verizon is major mobile carrier, and both companies offer various services to businesses in California, but neither is likely to be looking this way when the auction begins. Verizon unloaded its Californian systems on Frontier two years ago, and Windstream has little or no infrastructure here.

The remaining four are all wireless ISPs: Cal.net, Conifer, Geolinks and DigitalPath.

The auction includes a mix of mostly rural census blocks around the U.S. that weren’t included or claimed in the initial subsidy grab in 2015. It’s a reverse auction – the FCC has set a maximum subsidy it’s willing to offer in any given area, and ISPs bid down from there. The available money almost certainly isn’t enough to cover all the areas on the table, so some will be left out.