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Friday, October 11, 2019

PUC Presses FCC to Secure Needed Federal Funding for Rural Broadband; Urges Citizens to File Comments and Show Support

HARRISBURG –October 11, 2019--- The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC) today highlighted its most recent efforts to secure federal funding for increased rural broadband deployment across the Commonwealth, while also urging concerned residents, businesses and other stakeholders to contact the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regarding the newly proposed Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RUDOF).

In response to the RUDOF proceeding, the PUC, along with the state’s Office of Consumer Advocate (OCA) and the Office of Small Business Advocate (OSBA), recently filed joint comments at the FCC reflecting Pennsylvania’s ongoing efforts to increase access to high speed internet service in underserved areas in the Commonwealth – while also raising concerns about ensuring that the federal funding process gives initial priority to unserved communities.

In their comments, the PUC, OCA and OSBA noted that Pennsylvania currently has at least 29,739 residential or business locations that do not have, or are not on schedule to receive, broadband access service at a download speed of at least 10 Megabits per second (Mbps) and upload speed of 1 Mbps (10/1) much less than the FCC’s currently defined broadband speeds of 25/3 Mbps.

These locations include areas where two incumbent carriers in Pennsylvania previously declined support, triggering a federal auction in 2018 in which some locations received no bids to provide service. This translates to millions of dollars of federal support, which the PUC, OCA and OSBA are trying to attract to and retain for Pennsylvania.

The Pennsylvania regulatory parties specifically recommended that locations without at least 10/1 Mbps service today be given priority in the first of two auctions that the FCC proposes to conduct, as follows:

The first auction would direct financial support to provide service at a speed of 25/3 Mbps in locations that lack, or are not scheduled to receive, broadband at 10/1 Mbps under any current federal effort.

The second (later) auction would direct support to upgrade broadband service from 10/1 Mbps to 25/3 Mbps in locations that have, or are scheduled to receive, broadband at 10/1 Mbps under current federal efforts.

The PUC noted that the FCC’s proposal to upgrade locations that have access to 10/1 Mbps broadband today to the higher speed of 25/3 Mbps before supporting locations that currently lack even 10/1 Mbps service could exacerbate the “digital divide” in rural areas by driving federal funding toward upgrading existing 10/1 Mbps service while leaving many other locations without any modern broadband access service. While upgrading networks may be less expensive compared to providing service in areas that have no service today, the PUC urged the FCC to focus on making federal support available first to areas that lack 10/1 Mbps service before upgrading areas that already have that service.

As proposed, the RUDOF will make available up to $20.4 billion in federal universal service support throughout the U.S. over a ten-year period using a reverse auction. The auction will provide support to bidders who agree to provide voice and broadband service at a minimum of 25/3 Mbps to around four million rural homes and small businesses.

Any interested member of the public may file Reply Comments in this proceeding – echoing the concerns raised by the Commission, OCA and OSBA or raising their own issues. The deadline for filing Reply Comments is October 21, 2019. A party must file a Comment or Reply Comment in order to challenge any decision the FCC does make.

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