Rural broadband appeals flood into the FCC

by Steve Blum • , , , , ,

Round up twice the usual number of suspects.

There’s no lack of interest in the FCC’s rural broadband experiment. By 5:00 p.m. California time, more than 500 expressions of interest had been filed electronically with the FCC and posted on its website (h/t to The Baller Herbst List for pointing me to the link). The total appeared to be climbing, and I’m guessing that the FCC will be accepting letters at least until midnight Midway Island time, if not well into the weekend.

So the exercise is a success, based on the FCC’s primary goal, which was to generate a Google Fiber-like buzz around its plan to direct an as yet unspecified amount of money from the Connect America Fund toward non-traditional rural broadband providers (although incumbent telcos are welcome to apply). The hope was also to generate some innovative ideas for commissioners to chew on, but that’s yet to be seen – it’ll take a while to read through the letters.

California was not particularly well represented in the filings. After a quick scan, I could only find a bakers dozen with ties to the state, including one from Cox Communications, a major U.S. cable company. I’m betting there’s more, but not a lot more.

A joint letter from six regional broadband consortia around California, including ours here on the central coast, was submitted. (Big thanks for the quick work by Connie Stewart from the Redwood Coast consortium). Although the FCC’s program as designed isn’t particularly amenable to California’s circumstances, we represent a big chunk of the country’s rural residents…

There are approximately 5.1 million rural residents in California, which accounts for 10% of the rural population in the United States. In California’s 58 counties, 44 are rural and approximately 13% of the population resides in rural areas. 80% of California’s landmass is designated rural.

California has set a goal of reaching 98% broadband deployment and 80% adoption by 2017. In order to reach the 98% goal, it is estimated that there are currently 225,000 unserved households in rural California.

There’s no particular advantage or disadvantage to filing a letter by today’s deadline, except that you get a chance to make your case for how the FCC should run its rural broadband experiments, once it actually puts the program together and starts accepting applications, likely late in the spring.