FCC Approves $20 Billion Rural Broadband Expansion Fund

Federal Trade Commission LogoThe Federal Communications Commission has voted to approve a process for dispersing over $20 billion in funding for expanding broadband access to underserved areas across the country.

“Without access to broadband, rural Americans cannot participate in the digital economy or take advantage of the opportunities broadband brings for better education, healthcare, and civic and social engagement,” the FCC said in a statement. “In recent years, the Commission has made tremendous strides toward increasing the availability of broadband in rural America. But more work remains to be done, and the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund is a key part of the FCC’s continuing efforts.”

The goals of the fund are to prioritize networks with higher speeds, greater usage allowances, and lower latency. Phase One will target areas that are “wholly unserved with fixed broadband at speeds of at least 25/3 Mbps.” Up to $16 billion will be allocated for this phase.

Phase Two will target partially served areas “where some locations lack access to 25/3 Mbps broadband.” At least $4.4 billion will be available for this phase.

During the voting process, Multichannel reports that Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel voted against plan, saying that the FCC needs “maps before money and data before deployment.”

Those who supported the plan, including FCC chair Ajit Pai, said that moving forward immediately would help unserved and underserved areas get the internet access they need immediately, rather than waiting for that research to be done. That research, they said, will be done after Phase One, when reviewing the Phase Two budget.

This plan is part of the Connect America Fund, which was formed to distribute resources to help bridge the digital divide. The program is funded by the Universal Services Fund.

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