190 Electric Co-ops Among Qualified Bidders
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has released the list of qualifying bidders and a map of available territories for the upcoming Rural Digital Opportunity Fund auction. This $16 billion auction opens up the opportunity to extend broadband to these rural areas of electric and telephone cooperatives, consortiums, and other local community-based entities. The auction is expected to lead to the expansion of high-speed internet service to more than 5 million unserved homes and businesses across the country, including more than 250,000 locations in Michigan. Only Texas and California have more locations available in the auction.
Six Michigan cooperatives participated in the auction including Cloverland, Great Lakes Energy (Truestream), HomeWorks Tri-County, Midwest Energy & Communications, Presque Isle Electric & Gas Co-op and Thumb Electric Cooperative. Nationwide, 190 electric cooperatives are among the 396 qualified bidders, although most electric co-ops are bidding as part of a consortium.
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai called the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund auction “our biggest and boldest step yet” to bring broadband to unserved rural areas.
Winning bidders will receive funds over a 10-year period to deploy broadband to the unserved census blocks. The auction requires providers to deliver minimum speeds of 25 megabits per second for downloads and 3 Mbps for uploads. It will use a weighted tier system and rules advocated by the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association to determine who is awarded each area.
Once the auction concludes, the commission will release the auction results, including identifying which bidders won support and which areas were awarded. Areas awarded other government broadband grants, such as the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utilities Service ReConnect awards, are not eligible to receive funding in this auction.
For the map of available areas, click here.
For the list of qualified bidders, click here.
For more on state-by-state eligibility, click here.
Just as cooperatives electrified rural homes and businesses in the last century, they now play an essential role in bringing high-speed connectivity to rural America today.
The Michigan Legislature recently passed House Bills 4266 and 5266, which make it easier for electric co-ops to bring high-speed broadband access to their members.
Three of Michigan’s nine electric distribution co-ops (Midwest Energy & Communications, Great Lakes Energy and HomeWorks Tri-County Electric Cooperative) are currently deploying broadband, with two more co-ops (Presque Isle Electric & Gas Co-op and Thumb Electric Cooperative) actively studying its feasibility. The remaining distribution co-ops are planning or studying the use of fiber optic cable to improve electric service to member-owners and their communities.
Co-ops have used existing electric utility easements for broadband deployment in Michigan for the past five years. While there have been numerous cases in Michigan that support similar use, there have also been recent cautionary tales.
House Bill 4266 authorizes co-ops to deploy broadband infrastructure along existing electric easements, while House Bill 5266 offers consistent standards for pole attachments. Together, these bills are intended to encourage and enable electric co-ops to extend broadband access to rural areas, which will promote connectivity and create jobs.
This legislative change will ensure the uniform application of existing law, and ensure that Michigan’s electric co-ops can continue to use existing easements to extend broadband to homes and businesses in rural Michigan.