On Tuesday, March 17, 2020, the Wireline Competition Bureau (“Bureau”), in coordination with the Rural Broadband Auctions Task Force and the Office of Economics and Analytics, released a Public Notice announcing the release of the preliminary list of census blocks and a map of areas that have been deemed initially eligible for the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (“RDOF”) Phase 1 Auction (“Auction 904”) (AU Docket No. 20-34; WC Docket Nos. 19-126, 10-90). The Bureau also releases a list of the associated census block groups and reserve prices and a list of the associated census tracts and reserve prices.

The list of census blocks, census blocks groups, and census tracts can be found on the Auction 904 website. The map is available here.

The Bureau is conducting a limited challenge process to give parties an opportunity to identify by April 10, 2020 census blocks that fall into one of three categories:

  • FCC Form 477 Filers – Current Form 477 filers should identify any ineligible census blocks that have become served with voice and 25/3 or better broadband services since June 30, 2019, to address the lag time between when areas became served and when that service is reflected in the Form 477 data.
  • Subsidized Census Blocks – Parties are invited to specify specific census blocks that have been awarded funding by a federal or state broadband subsidy. Parties should only identify census blocks where a provider has an enforceable commitment to offering broadband service at 25/3 Mbps or better and for which funding has already been paid or a formal commitment has been executed. This submitted information will not prevent winning bidders from accessing other funding sources, including from states, although the Commission has already stated that it will exclude areas where 25/3 Mbps service has been or can be deployed without RDOF support.
  • Rate-of-Return Carriers – These carriers may identify any census blocks within their service areas as ones where they do not expect to extend broadband in satisfaction of their USF deployment obligations.

To identify the preliminary eligible areas, the Bureau used the Connect America Cost Model (“CAM”) with updated coverage using the most recent Form 477 data to identify census blocks that are unserved with broadband speeds of at least 25/3 Mbps. The preliminary list of blocks includes census blocks located in price cap carrier territories that, based on June 30, 2019 data, are not served by the incumbent price cap carrier or an unsubsidized competitor with voice and broadband at speeds of 25/3 Mbps or higher and that fall into one of the following groups:

  • Census blocks for which price cap carriers currently receive CAF Phase II model-based support;
  • Any census blocks that were eligible for, but did not receive, winning bids in the CAF Phase II auction;
  • Any census blocks where a CAF Phase II auction winning bidder has defaulted;
  • Census blocks excluded from the offers of model-based support and the CAF Phase II auction because they were served with voice and broadband of at least 10/1 Mbps;
  • Carriers served by both price cap carriers and rate-of-return carriers to the extent that the census block is in the price cap carrier’s territory;
  • Any unserved census blocks that are outside of price cap carriers’ service areas where there is no certified high-cost eligible telecommunications carrier providing service and any other populated areas unserved by either a rate-of-return or price cap carrier.

The preliminary list of census blocks excludes the following:

  • Census blocks where a winning bidder in the CAF Phase II auction is obligated to deploy voice and broadband service;
  • Census blocks where a Rural Broadband Experiment support recipient is obligated to offer at least 25/3 Mbps service over networks capable of delivering 100/25 Mbps;
  • Portions of any census block substantially overlapped by an award funded through the DOA’s ReConnect Program.

The Bureau will release the final list of eligible blocks prior to the short-form application deadline and expects to update the list in the interim to reflect any comments received on the above. The Commission previously sought comment in the RDOF Public Notice on whether to use census block groups or census tracts as the minimum geographic unit for bidding, and parties will be required to bid on all of the locations within either eligible blocks of a census block group or census tract. The Notice emphasizes that this list released is not the final list of areas that will be available in Auction 904.

The Commission has decided to use the CAM to set reserve prices for the RDOF Phase I auction. For high-cost census blocks, CAM calculates a reserve price equal to the cost per location for all locations in the census block minus the funding threshold of $40.00 per location, or $30.00 per location in Tribal areas or areas lacking 10/1 Mbps. For extremely high-cost census blocks, support-per-location was capped at $212.50, or $222.50 in Tribal areas lacking 10/1. The preliminary lists identify specific census blocks or tract data along with the reserve prices rounded to the nearest dollar. The Notice again emphasizes that these support amounts may change in the final list.

The Bureau will not accept challenges seeking to establish that a census block is unserved if it is reported as served on Form 477 as of June 30, 2019, or later. Phase II of the RDOF will target unserved locations within areas that data demonstrates are only partially served, as well as areas not won in Phase 1. All filings must reference WC Docket No. 19-126.

Interested parties may file comments or challenges by April 10, 2020. As a reminder, reply comments on the RDOF Public Notice are also due April 10, 2020.

Please Contact Us if you have any questions.