The Federal Communications Commission announced last week it has received requests from telecommunications providers in 44 states and Puerto Rico for more than $385 million in money from the Connect America Fund to benefit as many as 600,000 rural homes and small businesses that lack broadband.
Puerto Rico, represented by incumbent carrier Puerto Rico Telephone (which does business as Claro), requested more than $31.5 million to cover nearly 41,000 rural homes and businesses. The island’s request is the second highest among the 44 petitions, trailing only Tennessee on the list.
“This isn’t a final decision, as the FCC will now seek comments from other providers on this petition,” said Claro Spokeswoman Irmarie Cervera.
The agency confirmed that its review and possible challenges from other providers could lead to lower levels of funding in some areas. Deployment must be completed within three years.
“Broadband is no longer a luxury but is essential in today’s society to finding a job, getting an education, receiving quality health care, and staying connected with family and community,” said Acting FCC Chairwoman Mignon Clyburn.
“This second round of support from the Connect America Fund will leverage private investment and connect hundreds of thousands of rural consumers and businesses to the robust broadband that other communities have long taken for granted,” she said.
“I’m delighted that requests for support in this round have exceeded our expectations, putting us that much closer to the day when all Americans have access to broadband,” Clyburn added.
This second round of funding from Phase I of the Connect America Fund marks the continuation of “the most significant public-private effort in history to ensure that every American home and business has access to broadband by the end of the decade, which will spur economic growth and boost the nation’s global competitiveness,” the agency said in a statement released last week.
The FCC launched its broadband expansion program in 2011 when it reformed and modernized the Universal Service Fund, which helped expand the telephone network. The FCC created the Connect America Fund to unleash the benefits of 21st century broadband communications in communities where there are insufficient market incentives to expand broadband service absent a joint public-private effort.
Key reforms allowed Connect America to expand support to both broadband and voice without increasing universal service fees on consumers and businesses.
Phase I of the Connect America Fund is designed to quickly expand broadband to unserved areas while broader structural reforms are being implemented.
In 2012, providers accepted nearly $115 million in Phase I funding to expand rural broadband in 37 states. In May of this year, the FCC allocated $300 million for the current round of Phase I, with additional funding to be made available if demand exceeded that amount.
“With total requests exceeding $385 million, this second round builds on lessons learned from the first, and includes changes to incentivize private investment, improve program clarity, and maximize deployment where consumers lack broadband,” the FCC said.