April 20, 2020 by Gregory Bathrick

An Opportunity to Finish Closing the Digital Divide

 

Over the past 10 years and with help from government funding, communications service providers (CSPs) have invested well over $500 billion in their networks. Now, with traffic surging both downstream and upstream because of the COVID-19 emergency, we are seeing the payoff as America stays at home and engages in telework, telehealth, distance learning—and binges on entertainment content and games. Just imagine the hit to the economy if our nation’s broadband networks were not as robust and reliable. 

And, imagine the hit to the economy if CSPs and their employees did not go out there every day to maintain and upgrade their services and address subscriber issues. Even ex-FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, who sought to over-regulate CSPs, just conceded, “Credit is due to the nation’s broadband providers. The fact we can work from home is the result of hundreds of billions of investment dollars and construction and operational skill.” 

Even with this investment, there are still nearly 30 million Americans without access to sufficient broadband today according to the FCC. And as the COVID-19 crisis forces public schools to close, education professionals struggle to reach students using online programs in their attempt to complete the 2019-2020 school year due to this digital divide. Without broadband for all, schools must find other ways to deliver the material, making it difficult to meet their goals. Moreover, stay-at-home families require access to high performance broadband networks for telework, telehealth, and to connect to their families and communities. And, after the crisis ends, consumers will not turn back from wanting this connectivity.

Closing the digital divide has been a priority of FCC Chairman Ajit Pai since the first day of his administration. Under his leadership, the FCC has moved aggressively to expand broadband access to unserved areas across America, including through the just-established Rural Digital Opportunity Fund. This decade long program will spend to $20.4 billion to bring broadband to more than 6 million unserved locations.

Because the RDOF opportunity is so great and the auction is set to begin on October 22, CSPs have no time to lose in determining whether they can make a strong business case and should participate. The FCC has published the preliminary list of eligible areas and census block group reserve prices [RDOF maps]. In addition, the application and auction rules should be relatively similar to those used in the Connect America Phase II auction. So, with short-form applications likely due early summer, we recommend you get started now.

For more educational opportunities on RDOF such as webinars, please visit Calix RDOF Funding webpage.

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