Wireless, DSL tech proposed for subsidised rural broadband will get extra scrutiny from FCC

by Steve Blum • , , ,

Clouseau 625

When the Federal Communications Commission last week approved application requirements and bidding procedures for the reverse auction it’ll use to distribute $16 billion in rural broadband subsidies, it toughened up language regarding performance claims for fixed wireless and DSL-based service. The final version of the rules builds on an earlier draft that was already highly sceptical of any potential claims that wireless or DSL technology could deliver gigabit level service – defined as 1,000 Mbps download and 500 Mbps upload speeds – on a consumer market basis.

The FCC plans to grill bidders making such claims…

We anticipate that Commission staff will benefit from having the opportunity to discuss network plans with each applicant through the Commission’s existing resubmission process. An applicant proposing to deploy fixed wireless and DSL technologies to offer Gigabit speeds and any engineers that assisted with the application must be prepared to engage in follow-up conference calls upon request with Commission staff to elaborate on their…responses with a particular focus on concerns raised in the record.

We retain maximum flexibility to take enforcement action based on the specifics of each circumstance. We do note that the base default [fine] we have already adopted for Auction 904 will be subject to adjustment upward or downward as appropriate…All applicants should conduct due diligence and consider seriously whether they will be able to meet the relevant public interest obligations before selecting performance tier and latency combinations in their applications.

Translation: put up or shut up. Or get whacked with thousands, perhaps tens of thousands, of dollars in fines.

Fixed wireless providers, particularly, will have to show how any gigabit service claims they make conform to the laws of physics. Or as the FCC puts it, they’ll have to answer challenging questions about…

Distance limitations, spectrum bands attributes, channel bandwidths requirements, backhaul and medium haul requirements, tower siting requirements, capacity constraints, required upstream speeds, required minimum monthly usage allowances, and other issues raised in the record.

The door also opened a crack to low earth orbit satellite systems, particularly SpaceX’s Starlink constellation. Instead of being barred from claiming low latency capability, they’ll also “face a substantial challenge” convincing FCC staff that they have it.

Rural Digital Opportunity Fund phase 1 auction Procedures public notice, 11 June 2020
Rural Digital Opportunity Fund auction technical guide, 10 June 2020