In a filing with the FCC last week, Charter defended itself against a group of bidders in the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) auction that have questioned Charter’s winning bid in the auction. Charter had the top bid in the auction and is poised to gain $1.22 billion to cover some of the costs of deploying broadband to unserved rural areas.
Charter made its filing in reply comments in connection with the company’s request to obtain eligible telecommunications carrier (ETC) status for Alabama, New Hampshire and Tennessee. Winning bidders in the RDOF auction are required to obtain ETC status before undertaking their deployments. Status is awarded on a state-by-state basis, and while some states take responsibility for ETC approvals, others – including those three states — give that authority to the FCC.
The group that questioned Charter’s ETC petition is the Ensuring RDOF Integrity Coalition (ERIC). Telecompetitor previously asked a representative for the group for the identity of group members but the question went unanswered.
ERIC’s petition against Charter “prognosticates without any evidence about Charter’s intentions” and “should be dismissed as irrelevant, speculative and, with respect to some issues, untimely,” Charter said in its filing.
ERIC was the only party that submitted commits in response to Charter’s ETC petition, according to Charter.
Charter RDOF Bid
In its filing, Charter argues that it is well qualified to undertake its RDOF buildout, noting that the company is the second largest broadband connectivity company in the country with over 31 million customers and with 99.9% network reliability. Charter also cited the FCC’s most recent Measuring Broadband Report, which noted that the company exceeds 100% of its advertised speeds during peak times.
Areas served already include parts of Alabama, New Hampshire and Tennessee, Charter noted.
ERIC’s key concern is that Charter’s RDOF bid was so low that the company will not be able to “make a business case” for its deployment and therefore will be unable to fulfill buildout obligations. ERIC said the concerns were based on research that the group has conducted and on the experiences of ERIC members, but did not provide specifics, Charter noted.
Charter previously told investors that it plans to invest approximately four additional dollars in Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) projects for every dollar the company receives in RDOF support.
“Whether the unnamed members of ERIC believe that they could profitably serve some areas that Charter won in the auction is irrelevant to both the petition and Charter’s ability to do so,” Charter wrote, adding that the commission will address winning bidders’ ability to meet buildout commitments as part of the long-form review process.
ERIC has asked the FCC to allow its members to review the long-form applications of Charter and several other winning bidders. But Charter said in its filing that the request should be denied because it has nothing to do with whether Charter meets the requirements to be designated as an ETC and because the request is “untimely.”
The FCC made the decision to keep long-form applications confidential in 2020 and “the opportunity for ERIC to object to that decision has long since lapsed,” Charter said.