(The Center Square) – Thirteen broadband providers in Louisiana will share $342.2 million in federal dollars meant to promote high-speed internet access in areas where it’s not currently available.
The program is meant to subsidize development of internet infrastructure in areas where there aren’t enough potential customers to otherwise justify the investment.
A total of $9.2 billion was doled out nationwide to 180 bidders, the Federal Communications Commission says. Providers must meet periodic buildout requirements that will require them to reach all assigned locations within six years.
“We aimed for maximum leverage of taxpayer dollars and for networks that would meet consumers’ increasing broadband needs, and the results show that our strategy worked,” FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said in a prepared statement. “This auction was the single largest step ever taken to bridge the digital divide and is another key success for the Commission in its ongoing commitment to universal service.”
Segnem Egere Consortium bid $142.4 million to serve 22 parishes, the most of any of the Louisiana winners. Rural Electric Cooperative Consortium qualified for $113.7 million of support to invest in 22 parishes.
Space Exploration Technologies, led by SpaceX and Tesla CEO Elon Musk, received $26.6 million to invest in 57 parishes.
The bidders competed in a “reverse auction” format, stating in each round whether they would be able to provide service in a given area for a given amount. The auction was open to new providers and prioritized the ability to offer higher speeds.
The Rural Digital Opportunity Fund is a $20.4 billion fund designed to close the digital divide by funding high-speed broadband network deployment in underserved rural areas in the United States, according to a summary from U.S. Sen. John Kennedy, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government, which has jurisdiction over the FCC.
The FCC set aside $16 billion for Phase I of the auction, of which $9.2 billion was allocated. The remaining $6.8 billion will roll over into the future Phase II auction, which can now have a budget of $11.2 billion to target those areas that did not receive funding in the first phase as well as partially served areas, Kennedy said.
“Louisianians without broadband access deserve the same educational and work opportunities that Americans who have high-speed internet already enjoy,” Kennedy said. “The pandemic has made it more urgent than ever to bridge the digital divide in underserved rural areas – telehealth, telework, and online classes demand broadband expansion.”