March 9, 2020

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FCC Seeks Comments on First Phase of Rural Broadband Funding

The Federal Communications Commission late last month proposed procedures for the first phase of the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund auction, which will make up to $16 billion available for the deployment of fixed broadband networks across rural America.

The Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) is targeting funding towards some of the least-served parts of the country and October’s Phase I auction could bring high-speed broadband to as many six million unserved homes and businesses this year, the agency said.

In a Feb. 28 notice, the FCC seeks comment on proposed competitive bidding procedures that build on the successes and lessons learned from the 2018 Connect America Fund Phase II auction. Bidding in Phase I of the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund reverse auction is expected to start in October.

Comments are due March 27; reply comments are due April 10.

The notice proposes procedures for potential bidders to apply to become qualified to participate in the auction and for the submission and processing of bids to determine winners and assign support amounts. It also seeks comment on the appropriate minimum size of an area to be eligible for funding and proposes pre- and post-auction operational, technical, and financial information applicants and winning bidders would be required to submit.

The Rural Digital Opportunity Fund Phase I auction will be a reverse auction in which service providers will compete with each other by committing to provide services to unserved communities in exchange for specific levels of support. The auction will prioritize bids for faster, lower latency services in order to ensure that federal support connects unserved Americans with the best service possible and at the lowest cost to the Universal Service Fund.

Phase II of the program will make available at least $4.4 billion, plus unallocated funds from Phase I, to target partially served areas, census blocks where some locations lack access to 25/3 Mbps broadband, along with census blocks unawarded in the Phase I auction.  The second phase will use granular, precise broadband mapping data being developed in the FCC’s Digital Opportunity Data Collection to identify unserved locations in partially served areas.

Please contact the UTC Public Policy Team with any questions.

T&T Update: CPS Energy CEO Williams Confirmed as Featured Speaker!

Editor’s Note: UTC’s annual Telecom & Technology conference is just a few months away! We will be featuring updates and highlights regularly in Industry Intelligence. Have you registered? Act now and take advantage of early bird rates! This year the conference is being held in Providence, R.I., from May 18-22! More info is available here: www.utctelecom.org

UTC is proud to confirm CPS Energy President and CEO Paula Gold Williams as a featured speaker in this year’s Telecom & Technology conference.

Ms. Gold-Williams will address UTC attendees on Wednesday, May 20, during the opening general session.

As President and CEO, Ms. Gold-Williams is a sought-after speaker, known for inspiring and engaging presentations and a track record of leadership.

Ms. Gold-Williams has more than 30 years of leadership experience in San Antonio, including being a Regional Controller for Time Warner’s cable and telephony regional office and the VP of Finance for Luby’s, Inc. before coming to CPS Energy in late 2004. Over her 14 years at CPS Energy, she has progressively served as Controller & Assistant Treasurer; VP & Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) – Organizational Excellence & Shared Services; EVP, Chief Financial Officer (CFO) & Treasurer; and Group EVP – Financial & Administrative Services, CFO & Treasurer.

CPS Energy, a UTC core utility member, is the largest publicly owned utility in the U.S. It serves San Antonio, Texas, and the surrounding areas.

In addition to her role at CPS Energy, Paula serves on a broad portfolio of boards and committees and is the Immediate Past Chair of the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce. Further, Paula was awarded the inaugural Chief Trailblazer of the Year award by S&P Global Platts for her innovation and commitment to customers and her community.

For Utilities, 3.5 License Auction Rules Bring Opportunities, Challenges

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC, the Commission) last month established application and bidding procedures for the auction of over 22,000 county-sized Priority Access Licenses (PALs) in the 3.5 GHz band. The rules represent an opportunity and challenge for the utility industry.

Bidding in this auction is scheduled to commence on June 25, 2020. This auction will offer up to seven PALs in each county-based license area, for a total of 22,631 PALs nationwide, which the FCC says is the largest number of spectrum licenses ever made available for bidding in a single auction. Each PAL will consist of a 10-megahertz unpaired channel in the 3.55-3.65 GHz band.

Specifically, the auction rules:

  • Adopt an ascending clock auction format in which bidders indicate their demand for generic license blocks in specific counties as prices increase (licensees will be dynamically assigned a specific channel by frequency coordinators known as Spectrum Access Systems);
  • Permit bidding on a county-by-county basis, and allows bidders to bid for no more than four generic blocks of spectrum per county;
  • Incorporate for the first time in a Commission spectrum auction an “activity upper limit” to mitigate the possibility of a bidder losing bidding eligibility in certain circumstances; and
  • Adopt bidding credit caps of $25 million for small businesses and $10 million for rural service providers, as well as a $10 million cap on the overall amount of bidding credits that a small business bidder may apply to winning licenses in smaller markets.

For utilities, the 3.5 GHz band represents both an opportunity and a challenge. It represents an opportunity for access to broadband spectrum. The spectrum will be made available for both PAL and GAA operations. The PALs will comprise 70 MHz of the spectrum in the lower part of the band at 3550- 3650 MHz and will be assigned in 10 megahertz blocks with 10-year renewable licenses that can be aggregated and partitioned.

It is a challenge, however, because the bidding rules may increase the difficulty for utilities to win licenses in the auction, particularly if the Commission decides to move forward with its proposal to use Cellular Market Areas (CMAs) as the size of the geographic area for licenses in the 172 metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs) that have more than one county.

Please contact the UTC Public Policy Team with any questions.

UTC CALENDAR OF EVENTS

Committee/Division calls
  • March 10: UtiliSite Committee Call—For more information, contact Bob Lockhart at bob.lockhart@utc.org
  • March 17: Utilities Broadband Committee Call—For more information, contact Brett Kilbourne
  • March 18: IT/OT Committee Call—For more information, contact Bob Lockhart
  • March 19: Public Policy Division Call—For more information, contact Rob Thormeyer
  • March 19: Telecom Committee Call—For more information, contact Brett Kilbourne
  • March 20: Security, Risk, and Compliance Committee Call—For more information, contact Bob Lockhart
Webinars
  • March 10: RF Safety for Utilities – Click Here
  • March 24: How Utilities Enable Broadband – Click Here
  • May 12: Utility Backup & DC Power Systems – Part 1
  • May 14: Utility Backup & DC Power Systems – Part 2
  • June 9: Broadband Deployment Case Studies [Power System Engineers]