WASHINGTON, D.C. – West Virginia’s U.S. Senators are welcoming a plan announced Thursday to boost rural broadband in the U.S. and West Virginia.

The Federal Communications Commission established the new Rural Digital Opportunity Fund to efficiently fund the deployment of high-speed broadband networks in rural America. Through a two-phase reverse auction mechanism, the FCC will direct up to $20.4 billion over 10 years to finance up to gigabit speed broadband networks in unserved rural areas, connecting millions more American homes and businesses to digital opportunity.

“This is great news for rural America and West Virginia,” said Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, (R-W.Va.). “The FCC, particularly Chairman Ajit Pai, has been a helpful partner in deploying broadband and funding buildout in areas that need it most. I hope to see visible results in our state from this announcement, and I’d encourage West Virginia providers to apply.”

Broadband helps consumers take part in the digital economy and helps users take part in everything from online learning to health care and small business inventory control.

However, in rural areas, residents who don’t have access to broadband become left behind.

Pai said the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund is a key part of the FCC’s continuing efforts to improve access to this technology.

While Sen. Capito remained positive about the news, Sen. Joe Manchin, (D-W.Va.) voiced some skepticism with the announcement.

“While I fully support the effort to bring reliable, high speed broadband to rural America, I remain concerned that this proposal will leave a lot of West Virginia behind. More than 75% of this funding will be out the door before the coverage maps are even updated, there is no opportunity for anyone to challenge the accuracy of the maps at any point in the process, and there is no terrain factor to ensure high cost, hard to serve places like West Virginia can effectively compete for these limited funds,” Manchin said.

Manchin said he will continue to with the FCC and Pai to ensure rural West Virginia is included in the new program.

“I will continue to work with the Federal Communications Commission and my colleagues in Congress to try to address these concerns, and I won’t stop fighting until all West Virginians have the broadband service they need to compete in today’s global market,” Manchin said.

The FCC said the first phase of the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund will begin later this year and target census blocks that are wholly unserved with fixed broadband at speeds of at least 25/3 megabytes per second.

This phase would make available up to $16 billion to census blocks where existing data shows there is no such service available whatsoever. Funds will be allocated through a multi-round reverse auction like that used in 2018’s Connect America Fund Phase II auction. FCC estimates that some 6 million rural homes and businesses are located in the areas targeted for bidding in the Phase I auction.

The Rural Digital Opportunity Fund auction will prioritize networks with higher speeds, greater usage allowances, and lower latency. To support the deployment of sustainable networks in this auction, the auction will prioritize bidders committing to provide fast service with low latency.

This will encourage the deployment of networks that will meet with needs of tomorrow as well as today. Bidders must also commit to provide a minimum speed more than double than was required in the CAF Phase II auction.

The program’s second phase will make available at least $4.4 billion to target partially served areas, census blocks where some locations lack access to 25/3 Mbps broadband.

The Connect America Fund has been a success in distributing resources to help bridge the digital divide and that success will be carried forward in the new Rural Digital Opportunity Fund.

Both programs, supported by the Universal Service Fund, are part of the Commission’s ongoing commitment to provide rural America with the same opportunities available in urban areas.

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