FCC Announces Updates to A-CAM Program

Updates increase speed requirements and facilitate coordination with BEAD and ACP programs.

FCC Announces Updates to A-CAM Program
Photo of Rocky Mountains by Peter Pryharski

WASHINGTON, July 24, 2023 – The Federal Communications Commission adopted an order Monday to establish updates to the Alternative Connect America Cost Model program.

The Enhanced A-CAM program implements changes to the A-CAM program which provided funding to carriers that deployed 10 Mbps download and 1 Mbps upload or faster broadband service to high-cost locations, which include some of the most difficult to reach areas of the country.

The updates require that participating carriers deploy voice and 100/20 Mbps or faster broadband service to 100 percent of the eligible locations in their areas. The updated speed requirements more accurately reflect those considered by the FCC as “served” locations, the FCC said.

Furthermore, the updates align deployment milestones with the Commerce department’s $42.5 billion Broadband Equity Access and Deployment program, requiring that all builds are complete within four years.

Areas that are covered by the A-CAM program can be considered as areas with enforceable commitment to deploy, meaning that states will not double-fund builds for those particular locations with BEAD funds. It also requires participating carriers to participate in the Affordable Connectivity Program, which subsidizes high-speed internet subscription for low-income households.

The program makes $13.5 billion in support available over a ten-year extension of the current A-CAM term and utilizes the FCC’s national broadband map to determine the locations to which participating carriers are obligated to connect.

Mike Romano, executive vice president of the NTCA, a rural broadband association, said in a statement that the order “represents a significant step in the debate over how to further the comprehensive mission of universal service… We look forward now to conversations about the implementation of this order as well as next steps on universal service in other rural areas, and we hope that the equally important statutory universal service goals of both getting and keeping customers connected will remain the North Star for all such discussions.”

The NCTA, the Internet and Television Association, said in comments to Broadband Breakfast that while it supports efforts to get Americans connected to internet, “it is concerning that the FCC would commit over $13 billion to specific broadband providers without a competitive process that is open to all qualified providers… simply granting 10 years of new support to incumbent phone companies will ultimately add to project expense and fail to bring consumers the benefits of competition in broadband builds.”

In May 2022, the FCC sought comments on the proposals for the updates to the program. The changes sought to modernize the program by increasing speed requirements while “minimizing duplicative support across different federal broadband programs,” stated the press release.

There are over 2 million homes and businesses served by 447 A-CAM companies in 45 states and territories, the press release reported. “This modernized program will provide additional universal service support to certain rural carriers in exchange for increasing deployment to more locations at higher speeds.”

Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said that the FCC is “on a mission to connect everyone, everywhere in this country to high-speed broadband. That includes access in rural areas on the wrong side of the digital divide… To meet the needs of consumers today and into the future, we are optimizing the commission’s program to bring higher speeds and greater bandwidth to consumers, particularly those living in hard-to-reach areas.”