Midwestern broadband experiments get most of the love from the FCC

29 May 2015 by Steve Blum

No mountains or trees to get in the way of the view. Or the broadband.

Six Internet service providers have been given the green light by the Federal Communications Commission to move ahead with a total of 15 projects in its rural broadband experiments program. All together, the projects will receive $12.6 million in subsidies over ten years to serve areas that lack 3 Mbps down/768 Kbps up service.

As with most federal broadband subsidy programs, the lions share of the money went to projects in the midwest. California was on the list, but that was expected – the three companies that were initially selected for the program couldn’t meet due diligence requirements and were dropped from the list. Only one company west of the Rockies – First Step Internet – made this first round of approved projects and will get a total of $416,000 for a project in Idaho and another in Washington. It was also the smallest award announced.

The other 13 projects are spread across midwestern states of North Dakota, Iowa, Illinois, Kansas and Oklahoma, plus Texas.

The FCC set up three different categories for the experiments. Most of the money – $75 million – was allocated to projects that proposed to deliver 100 Mbps down/25 Mbps up at prices and terms of service comparable to what’s available in urban areas. Two companies are on that list: Northeast Rural Services in Oklahoma ($884,000) and Skybeam in Illinois, Kansas and Texas. Skybeam is getting $4.5 million, the biggest chunk of change of any of the current group of bidders.

The rest of the money goes to projects that can deliver 10 Mbps down/1 Mbps up at prices and terms that are more on a par with existing rural options, with $10 million set aside for areas that the FCC deems to be particularly costly to serve. Two companies – Consolidated Communications Networks in North Dakota and Delta Communications in Illinois – went for the hard cases and received $3.1 million and $2.2 million respectively, more than half the total for that category. First Step was the middle group, so was Allamakee-Clayton Electric Cooperative which gets $1.5 million.

No details were released on the technology involved, but by looking at how many census blocks will be covered by each project it’s a fair guess that most but not all of the projects involve wireless systems. The geographic and technology mix could easily change, though. This first batch of projects only represents about one-eighth of the money that the FCC has set aside for the experiments.

FWIW, the FCC also released an updated list of frequently asked questions about the rural broadband experiments, [click here to see it]().