Over the summer, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) announced it would fund $100 million in rural broadband experiments (RBEs). This came on the heels of many months of work by a committed team of electric co-ops and other partners, including Midwest Energy Cooperative, who worked to impact policy change and open funding so that non-traditional providers could compete to bring broadband to the rural space. The RBEs were set up as a reverse auction system designed to award funds to entities willing to deploy broadband in rural census blocks at the lowest possible cost. In total, 181 entities applied for a total of $885 million in funding.
On Dec. 5, the FCC Wireline Bureau announced provisional awards to 37 different entities covering 26,867 census blocks in 25 states and Puerto Rico. Although Midwest Energy was not awarded funds through the RBEs, the team remains confident in their ability to access Connect America Fund (CAF) Phase II money, moving forward. On the heels of an apparent defeat, Midwest and its partners across the nation lobbied the FCC to have losing bids considered for CAF Phase II funding. Though strong influence by telecom giants appeared to silence the request, the co-ops ultimately won the day as FCC commissioners supported and championed the argument.
“We were very disappointed in the preliminary announcement, especially since the process boiled down to numbers and not quality of applications,” says Bob Hance, Midwest Energy Cooperative President/CEO. “However, last week’s FCC ruling is a huge win for our members and for rural America. The FCC clearly sent a message that they support something different than status quo, and that could ultimately be the game-changer.”