This week, the Federal Communication Commission laid out its proposed timeline for the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) auction, tentatively planned for October. The first phase of this auction will award up to $16 billion in funding for rural broadband, and is open to applicants from both big and small entities.
At the Fiber Broadband Association’s latest Fiber for Breakfast live video series, two experts discussed the RDOF process and what those interested in participating in October can expect when filling their short form application this summer. Jon Wilkins, partner at Quadra Partners/FiberRise; and Joanne Hovis, president of CTC Technology & Energy; said it seems more intimidating than it actually is, but having a handle on the process before going in is key.
While the timeline will be formally voted on for approval at the FCC’s Open Meeting on June 9, entities who plan on filling out an application should consider starting their process now.
“This is on a very fast track,” said Wilkins. “The question is what do you actually have to do?”
To participate in the auction, the FCC requires a short-form application. That window is tentatively open from July 1 to July 15, and requires several pieces of key information, including the interests of the owners of the entity or consortium applying, what states they plan on operating in, what technology the applicants will use to perform the job and operational history, to name a few.
Entities can enter the application process as individual companies, municipalities or groups —but each applicant or group of applicants is seen as one singular entity. They can also enter into a consortium with several other groups to work together. Working in a consortium allows those members to share information and strategy with one another. After the short form filing window closes, the quiet period starts where communication between auction rival participants is prohibited in order to prevent collusion during the auction rounds.
For smaller entities looking to get into the action, joining a consortium might be a good option.
“There are efficiencies and benefits of scale that a new entrant can potentially get by joining a consortium,” said Hovis. “It allows you to benefit from certain kinds of scale, with advisors in particular.”
Regardless of how one enters the auction process—as a standalone or with a consortium—they need to look at the information required in the short form to determine what they need to be bidding for.
Despite appearing overly in-depth, the short form application was designed to be as least burdensome as possible. It’s also designed to ferret out what capabilities an entity has to build out new broadband—specifically, what technology you have and how the region you plan to serve fits into your larger business plan.
Hovis said when filling out the short form, applicants don’t need to be overly specific. The application is designed to give the FCC a framework to go off of. Once approved, entities can go and build off their RDOF short form application to create a more detailed plan. While this is true, Wilkins said you can’t change your application once it’s been submitted.
“The FCC doesn’t require you to show you have signed and executed every last business plan you’re going to need for the project for the next 10 years,” Wilkins said. “But you do have to describe in a narrative form what your plan is. So, you have flexibility on the details, but on the other side if you do not file information in the short form, you can’t add it later.”
So what can entities do leading up to the RDOF short form application deadline? Hovis said applicants need to think from an analytical perspective what their capabilities are and what census areas identified in the RDOF auction they can serve. If they are going to enter a consortium, she recommends meeting with a lawyer to go over the contractual obligations that come with it.
She said entities should also think about what their larger goals are—and the goals of the greater market in general.
“For non-profits, utilities and public sector entities, they think about this moment and the opportunity the RDOF presents for them to enter the broadband market and to solve critical infrastructure access challenges in their communities,” she said. “Think about outreach to other entities, the development of data with other entities, the development of relationships and partnerships with other entities, starting with determining the end goals and priorities of the larger market.”
Join us for our next Fiber for Breakfast live video series at 10 a.m. ET on May 27. The topic: Examining the Cybersecurity of our Networks