June 19, 2020 — There is currently considerable buzz around the prospect of obtaining bids from the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund, the largest federal initiative to subsidize rural broadband in America to date.
However, it is no secret that the rural digital funding will be allotted based off of maps that inflate the reality of broadband coverage in the country.
In a Thursday webinar sponsored by Broadband Communities, Jon Radermacher, city administrator of Little Falls, Minnesota, detailed how incumbent providers inflating the speeds they offered in Little Falls resulted in the city being ineligible to compete for federal funds.
Funding for RDOF Phase I targets areas, where broadband speeds of at least 25 Megabits per second (Mbps) down and 3 Mbps up are reported as “not offered” based on Form 477 data, which are also known to overstate the speeds incumbents provide.
The issue facing Little Falls is a problem facing cities all over the country, as the Federal Communications Commission is set to allocate more than three-quarters of the $20.4 billion fund based on inaccurate information.
“The city didn’t qualify for FCC funding because the maps said the city was served,” said Radermacher. “However, the service available was not adequate or high speed, [and] the networks weren’t robust or reliable.”
When the services offered by incumbent providers began to slow the economic development of the city, businesses operating in Little Falls wrote to city officials urging them to develop a solution and demanding access to fiber.
Forced to seek alternative funding solutions, city leaders turned to a private partnership with CTC, or Consolidated Telecommunications Company, a Minnesota-based advising company that works with utilities, municipalities and government entities to assist in building fiber networks.
“More cities are saying we need to do this now more than ever” said Joe Buttweiler, partnership development manager at CTC. “You have no time to lose.”
Buttweiler said that cities in the same situation as Little Falls needed to partner with like-minded companies to ensure their success.
“We believe strongly in fiber,” continued Buttweiler. “If a city is convinced fiber is not for them, then we aren’t the right partner.”
Today, Little Falls’ fiber backbone has expanded from the town’s business quarter, through its downtown region, to its school district. Radermacher said he was “excited to find ways to connect residential customers next.”
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