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FCC approves $1.2 billion in rural broadband program funding -- with policy changes

The regulator's latest round of funding launches alongside new policy changes it hopes will reduce waste and increase the impact of its spending.
Written by Michael Gariffo, Staff Writer

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is poised to approve $1.2 billion in funding through the latest round of its Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF). 

The fund was created to help subsidize the costs associated with bringing terrestrial and wireless broadband services to unserved and underserved rural communities across the US. It attracts carriers by providing additional funding to the construction of network extensions, enabling projects that would not be financially viable without its aid. 

The latest round of $1.2 billion in disbursements will be used to build out broadband infrastructure in 32 states. A total of 23 broadband providers are involved with this round, with a target goal of reaching more than 1 million new customers locations with broadband services. 

To ensure that the RDOF and other "universal service high-cost programs" are being administered correctly, the FCC also announced the creation of the new Rural Broadband Accountability Plan

The monitoring program's immediate policy changes include: a doubling of audits and verification of support by recipients; a new on-site inspection requirement for the largest recipients of government funds; and increased program transparency, with plans to publish verification results, speed tests, and latency performance measurement results to the web. 

This is the latest step in the FCC's efforts to reduce waste and increase the impact of its spending around rural broadband proliferation. It also becomes part of a larger push toward transparency, following the agency's recently-announced plans to require easy-to-understand "nutrition labels" for all broadband service plans being offered in the US. 

This latest wave represents the sixth round of funding; more than $4 billion has already been spent to subsidize completed and ongoing buildouts. 

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