WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee and the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, held a rural broadband summit focused on the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF).
To begin the summit, Senator Capito spoke with Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai and received an update on the status of the RDOF Auction and the progress of applicants moving toward the completed application stage. Following this update, Senator Capito held a series of discussions with leaders from various broadband provider companies petitioning to bid in the upcoming RDOF reverse auction administered by the FCC. During these provider discussions, Senator Capito received feedback on the status of their applications.
“Improving connectivity in West Virginia means making sure our state has every opportunity possible to do so,” Senator Capito said. “One of those opportunities is the upcoming RDOF reverse auction. This summit provided me the chance to not just hear from individual providers about the status of their applications, but it also provided reassurance from the FCC personally that West Virginia will not be left out. I was glad to hear that every local provider planning to apply has filled out their applications and are in touch with the FCC to make sure they are meeting all of the requirements to receive a successful result. While we can all agree that more granular data is needed—and we are working as we speak to improve these broadband maps—it’s important to seize this opportunity instead of holding off. This will be a gradual process, but it will result in progress toward better connectivity.”
“Closing the digital divide is my top priority as Chairman of the FCC, and the two-phase, $20.4 billion Rural Digital Opportunity Fund is the single largest investment we’ve made so far,” said FCC Chairman Ajit Pai. “The first phase of the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund auction will target up to $16 billion to incentivize providers to build the highest-performance network at the lowest cost possible for unserved areas, so we get fast broadband to as many as an estimated 10.4 million unserved Americans, including more than 200,000 in West Virginia. I want to thank Senator Capito for her leadership on this issue, and for hosting me in West Virginia last year to learn firsthand about the challenges and successes of high-speed broadband in the Mountaineer State.”
Earlier this month, Governor Justice announced plans for the West Virginia Economic Development Authority (WVEDA) to provide assistance for potential RDOF applicants through the issuance of loan insurance on a letter of credit issued by a federal insured depository institution. The letters of credit are required by FCC rules in order to participate in the RDOF program and the applicant must be able to have the letter of credit open to cover disbursements until compliance with certain milestones are completed and verified. In order to ensure that West Virginia applicants who are working with local financial institutions are able to meet this requirement, Governor Justice announced that WVEDA will provide loan insurance for these letters of credit. The intended effect is to minimize the risk for a local financial institution to work with applicants seeking to bid in the RDOF auction. The governor’s executive order removes a statutory cap of $50 million on the WVEDA broadband loan insurance fund and a per-company limitation of $10 million.
The RDOF is one of the most ambitious steps the FCC has taken towards bridging the digital divide, which will provide $20.4 billion over the next 10 years for high speed fixed broadband service to rural homes and small businesses. The largest portion of these funds—$16 billion—will be made available for Phase 1 of RDOF. Phase II will make available the remaining $4.4 billion that will also be deployed through a reverse auction at a date yet to be determined. According to the FCC, West Virginia has over 121,000 initially eligible locations for Phase 1 funding that are completely unserved with voice and 25/3Mbps or higher broadband.
As part of the RDOF process, providers have the ability to challenge the eligibility of a census tract based on the level of service they claim they already provide. Earlier this year, Senator Capito successfully worked with the FCC to block a challenge from Frontier Communications that ensures that the 800 census blocks they challenged were rejected by the FCC.
Yesterday, Senator Capito spoke on the Senate floor about the importance of RDOF and rural broadband. Click here to watch the speech.
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