FCC offers 'reverse-auction' to expand rural broadband access

The allocation of almost $2 billion over 10 years starts in 2018.

Brian Frank / Reuters

The FCC got the go ahead for its rural broadband subsidy plan, Connect America Fund, in 2014. The fund -- intended to bring high-speed internet access to the least served communities in the US -- has since directed $170 million to New York, and AT&T has already added more access, too, starting in Georgia. The FCC just took the next step in the process with a "reverse-auction" that will allocate close to $2 billion over 10 years for telecommunication companies to provide to expand broadband internet access to more rural areas.

The auction will begin in 2018 and is the first time the FCC has used this mechanism to allocate Connect America funds for rural internet. The budget includes $198 million in annual support, with $170.4 million in total set aside for the New NY Broadband Program, currently in phase 3. While the exact deployment schedule of services funded via the auction will be up to the individual carriers, there are some rules. A company participating in providing subsidized service in rural areas must offer at least one commercial voice and broadband service each, with rates to be comparable to similar offerings in urban areas.

The FCC recognizes that many businesses attending the event will never have participated in an FCC auction before. "Recognizing that, the FCC's Rural Broadband Auctions Task Force, along with the Wireline Competition Bureau and Wireless Telecommunications Bureau, plan to provide detailed educational materials and hands-on practice opportunities in advance of the auction," the agency wrote in a statement.