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Accelerating Broadband Connectivity Act of 2020

June, 2020
By Mike Dunne

Yesterday heralded the introduction of the Accelerating Broadband Connectivity Act (“ABC” Act) of 2020 by U.S. Senators Roger Wicker [R-MS], Shelley Moore Capito, [R-W.V.], and Marsha Blackburn, [R-Tenn.]. Under the terms of the bill, the FCC will be authorized to make additional one-time funding offers to qualified carriers after they have successfully won Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) support from the upcoming Phase I (and subsequently Phase II) auction, scheduled to begin on October 29, 2020. Critically, the ABC Act makes no changes to the current RDOF rules and timeline. Instead, it proposes a new and substantial pool of acceleration funds that will be available beginning immediately after the auction exclusively to winning RDOF bidders able to commit to faster deployment.

Under the terms of the ABC Act, qualified carriers that receive funds (as directed by the FCC) must begin construction of their broadband networks not later than 180 days after the date on which the award is authorized. Further, award recipients must begin to make broadband service available from their RDOF networks not later than one (1) year after the date on which the award is authorized. Finally, rather than the six (6) years mandated under RDOF Phase 1 rules, qualified carriers who receive ABC Act support must meet all RDOF build-out obligations not later than three (3) years after the date on which the award is authorized.

The ABC Act includes a Force Majeure clause that will protect the recipient (although no details surrounding the clause are shared) in the event something outside their control should prevent them from meeting the obligations as noted above.

There will be, as one would expect, documentation requirements that give the receiving carrier the ability to prove to the FCC that they have indeed used these additional ABC Act funds in the manner for which they are intended.

As written and submitted, the ABC Act authorizes appropriations in the amount of $6 billion. The ABC Act instructs the FCC to make awards that are proportional to the amount of RDOF support received, although an expedited FCC rulemaking process this fall must take place to finalize all of the award details.

This is great news for rural electric cooperatives and other interested utilities, especially those who can obtain the necessary materials, harness the required manpower, and begin construction quickly in order to meet the ABC Act’s accelerated timeline.

While we do not know for sure that the bill will pass into law, it favors those who are most prepared—in early 2021—to begin immediate construction of their broadband networks.

Exclusive expertise and resources already available to FiberRise RDOF Consortium Members will equip our electric utility members for ABC Act success. These resources include:

  • The nation’s top team of former senior FCC executives, now with Quadra Partners
  • Access to valuable data and analysis provided by CostQuest and Associates
  • One of the world’s top auction economists, Mr. Peter Cramton

On top of these, FiberRise offers its own capabilities and experience building utility-grade broadband networks for electric cooperatives and other utilities. The FiberRise model typically saves up to 20% over more traditional fiber architectures. In addition, FiberRise has standing agreements for materials, labor, and other resources that will be critical for RDOF winners who apply for ABC Act funds and are willing to commit to the accelerated obligations.

Again, it’s important that our members and other electric utilities understand that this ABC Act announcement makes absolutely no change to RDOF itself—the timeline and rules remain exactly the same. However, the ABC Act does significantly increase the potential upside for any RDOF win, effectively increasing the Phase 1 budget of $16 billion by 38%.

So, what’s the catch (there’s always a catch)? For an RDOF recipient to take advantage of ABC Act funding opportunities, they must have a partner who can help them win support under the in-place RDOF rules and processes, and then build quickly, while also meeting the FCC’s documentation standards and obligation milestones. It is all well and good to win some money, but carriers need to work with a team that can help them win the most money and be ready to start building on day 1.

Are you an electric utility planning to navigate RDOF on your own? Or maybe you have a partner to help you work through the ins and outs of the auction, but with no real mechanisms for post-auction support and construction?

The FiberRise RDOF Consortium was purpose-built to provide our members world class auction economics, bidding strategies, and FCC expertise. Further, once a utility is successful in RDOF, they’ll have an experienced partner working with them every step of the way. Being able to obtain and correctly interpret the latest procedural updates from Washington is another key example of the value Quadra Partners brings for our members. Quadra and Mr. Cramton are committed to helping our members rapidly understand these additional rules so they can be effectively incorporated into each individual RDOF bidding strategy.

After yesterday’s announcement, there are still more details to be uncovered. The FiberRise RDOF Consortium team will review those details quickly and apply the necessary context and strategy, so our members can reap the maximum benefit.

Not a member? Please click JOIN THE CONSORTIUM to learn how you can join us and utilize our industry-best team to help your organization build utility-grade broadband for the communities you serve.

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