California’s two biggest broadband companies may pass up federal RDOF subsidy auction, but others are in the hunt

16 October 2020 by Steve Blum
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Money case 625

The Federal Communications Commission included 24 obviously Californian contenders in its final list of 386 qualified bidders for Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) money (list is below). The announcement didn’t say which service tiers they’re eligible to bid in. There are four tiers, with higher service levels getting preference in the auction: 25 Mbps download/3 Mbps upload, 50 Mbps down/5 Mbps up, 100 Mbps down/20 Mbps up, 1 Gbps down/500 Mbps up (what the FCC considers to be gigabit service).

There will almost certainly be more than a couple dozen Internet service providers going after RDOF subsidies to upgrade broadband service in California. There are probably companies on the eligible list without a prominent presence here who will bid in the reverse auction on 29 October 2020. And others could be hiding behind camouflaged corporate identities are buried within groups of bidders – “consortia”, as the FCC refers to them.

The most significant names on the eligible list are bankrupt Frontier Communications and a subsidiary of Charter Communications, CCO Holdings, LLC. Both are also going after California Advanced Services Fund (CASF) grants for broadband upgrade projects in areas eligible for RDOF money.

The missing names are even more significant: AT&T and the two major cable companies in California, Comcast and Charter Communications. Comcast almost certainly isn’t interested in RDOF money – it avoids the strings attached to public subsidies like the plague – but AT&T might have filed under an alias, as Charter did, and could yet pop up out of hiding.

Smaller cable companies – Cox Communications, Suddenlink (via corporate parent Altice), Mediacom, Horizon and San Bruno – made the cut, as did telcos like CenturyLink, Verizon and Ponderosa. Not all of them may be bidding in California – the FCC didn’t say which states the lucky 386 are interested in.

Several wireless ISPs with California systems are on the list, but they might struggle to win bids here. Bidders who convinced the FCC they have the capability of delivering gigabit service have a significant advantage in the complicated RDOF reverse auction process. A WISP which only qualifies for, say, the 25/3 tier will have a difficult, if not impossible, time competing against a fiber to the premise company that offers a legitimate gigabit. Since the competition is nationwide, Californian ISPs restricted to lower tiers will be at a distinct disadvantage to wireline companies bidding for subsidies in other states.

Eligible RDOF bidders with California ties

  • Altice USA, Inc.
  •, Inc.
  • California Internet, L.P. dba GeoLinks
  • Charter Communications/CCO Holdings, LLC
  • CenturyLink, Inc.
  • Conifer Communications
  • Consolidated Communications, Inc.
  • Cox Communications, Inc.
  • Digital Path, Inc.
  • Digital West Networks, Inc.
  • Etheric Communications LLC
  • Frontier Communications Corporation, Debtor in Possession
  • Hankins Information Technology
  • Horizon Cable TV, Inc.
  • Mediacom Communications Corporation
  • NRTC Phase I RDOF Consortium (includes Plumas Sierra cooperative)
  • Ponderosa Communications, Inc.
  • RDOF USA Consortium (includes Anza cooperative)
  • San Bruno CityNet Services
  • Sierra Nevada Communications
  • South Valley Internet Inc.
  • Surfnet Communications
  • Ultimate Internet Access, Inc.
  • Verizon Communications Inc.