FCC's Rural Broadband Experimental Efforts Get 181 Applicants

Getting high-speed broadband services out to residents in rural parts of the United States is the focus of a series of experiments being conducted under the auspices of the FCC.

rural broadband

Some 181 applicants have proposed about 600 projects under a Federal Communications Commission program that encourages experiments to help find reliable, affordable ways to bring high-speed broadband services to rural residents across the United States.

The tally of proposals was unveiled by the FCC in an announcement on Nov. 12 as the agency continues to try to encourage the development of new technologies that could bring broadband to the most remote residents of the country, where traditional broadband installations can be extremely expensive to install. The 181 applications for some 600 separate experimental projects represent about $885 million in investments, according to the agency.

The 181 applicants propose to serve over 76,000 census blocks in all 50 states and Puerto Rico, as they seek to find affordable ways to expand the nation's broadband systems to rural residents.

The FCC says that its staff will now begin to work to identify the provisionally winning bidders, "who then will be required to submit information demonstrating their financial and technical ability to participate in the $100 million experiment."

Finalists who are qualified to meet financial, technical and other regulatory requirements could launch their experiments as early as spring 2015, the agency said.

"The FCC's rural broadband experiments will inform the agency's broader effort to expand rural broadband through its Connect America Fund," according to the FCC. "They will also inform the FCC's efforts to ensure that consumers everywhere can benefit from the sweeping technological advances occurring now in the communications industry, while preserving consumer protection, competition, universal service and access to emergency services during these transitions."

The $100 million available for the experiments include $75 million to test competitive interest in building networks that are capable of delivering 100M-bps downloads and 25M-bps uploads, $15 million to test interest in delivering service at 10/1 speeds in high-cost areas and $10 million for 10/1 service in areas that are extremely costly to serve, the agency reported.

Bidders make up a diverse group of entities, including competitive providers, electric utilities, wireless Internet service providers and others, the FCC stated.

Similar broadband expansion efforts have been going on in the private sector, according to a recent eWEEK report. In May, startup Mimosa Networks received another $20 million in financing for its efforts to bring fiber-speed wireless connectivity to rural areas and developing countries. The company, whose founders have backgrounds with such technology vendors as Polycom, PictureTel and 2Wire, has now raised $38 million since its founding in 2012, and will use the new Series C funding to expand its product line and grow global sales, according to officials. The $20 million, announced May 21, came from returning investors New Enterprise Associates and Oak Investment Partners.

Service providers are under increasing pressure for more bandwidth and higher performance from consumers and businesses that are becoming more mobile and are armed with more mobile devices, such as smartphones and tablets. Trends such as cloud computing, bring your own devices (BYOD) and the Internet of things will only increase the demands on carriers.

Rural broadband shortages continue, despite previous FCC efforts to encourage such development, according to another eWEEK report from 2012. "Vast expanses of the rural South, as in other underpopulated sections of the nation, are bereft of any kind of broadband access despite an investment effort by the FCC," the report stated at the time.

In March, the FCC held a Rural Broadband Workshop in Washington to focus on ways of solving the related problems.