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Application Deadline of July 15 Announced for $16 Billion Rural Digital Opportunity Fund Auction

Elijah Labby

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Photo of FCC Chairman Ajit Pai by Gage Skidmore used with permission

May 21, 2020 — The Federal Communications Commission announced Monday that it would accept the so-called “short-form” applications for its Rural Digital Opportunity Fund reverse auction beginning on July 1 and continue until July 15.

The agency also announced that the auction of the monies for this first phase of the rural digital fund is scheduled to begin on October 29, 2020 — a one-week delay from the previously-scheduled deadline.

Additionally, the agency announced that it would publish an application tutorial on June 15, that an auction bidding tutorial would be available by October 14, and that the mock auction will take place on October 26.

In other words, despite uncertainties surrounding the coronavirus pandemic, the FCC is going forward with the auction with only a one-week delay.

In March, the agency released a map with areas pre-approved for application. Regions not included on the map must apply for approval before applying for the RDOF. However, tribal and territorial governments are pre-approved and do not need to apply to participate in the auction.

The auction for the rural funds will take place in two stages. During the first, up to $16 billion will be distributed over ten years for areas that lack broadband, which is defined as internet service of at least 25 Megabits per second (Mbps) download / 3 Mbps upload.

The second phase of the RDOF auction, at a later date to be determined, will make $4.4 billion available over 10 years. Besides being an opportunity for those who did not succeed in their first phase of bidding, it will also auction funds to provide coverage for service in census blocks that are currently counted as “served” — and yet in which some households cannot receive broadband.

In a normal auction, would-be purchasers jockey to purchase a good at the lowest price, and the seller attempts to bid up the value up.

The FCC’s timetable is expected to be officially adopted by a majority of the agency’s five commissioners at its June 9 public meeting, although that is expected to be a formality.

Prospective participants in the auction can visit the Auction 904 website to find how much money they could receive. The deadline to apply for the auction is July 15 at 6 p.m. ET, and the agency says that it will not consider applications submitted after that time.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai expressed confidence in the fund’s positive impact on Americans.

“Closing the digital divide is my top priority as Chairman, and this auction is our boldest step yet to ensure that broadband is available to all Americans,” he said.

A recording of the webinar is available online.

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