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Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai is proposing a $20.4 billion rural broadband fund that could connect up to four million homes and small businesses over the next ten years.

The new program will be part of the Universal Service Fund (USF), and it will be similar to an existing USF program that began during the Obama administration. In 2015, the USF's Connect America Fund (CAF) awarded $9 billion for rural broadband deployment—$1.5 billion annually for six years—in order to connect 3.6 million homes and businesses.

Carriers that accepted the CAF money are required to finish the broadband deployments by the end of 2020. Pai's proposed Rural Digital Opportunity Fund will be the follow-on program, an FCC spokesperson told Ars. The fund would "inject $20.4 billion into high-speed broadband networks in rural America over the next decade," the FCC said.

At $2 billion a year over ten years, the fund will provide more money each year over a longer period of time than the CAF program it would replace. It will also fund higher-speed services. The CAF funding only required carriers, including AT&T and CenturyLink, to deploy broadband with speeds of at least 10Mbps downstream and 1Mbps upstream.

In November 2018, Pai said he's proposing to raise the standard for subsidized deployments from 10Mbps/1Mbps to 25Mbps/3Mbps. But the program announced today will also try to go beyond the 25Mbps/3Mbps minimum. In an email to reporters, Pai's office said the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund will "provide up to gigabit-speed broadband in the parts of the country most in need of connectivity."

The new fund is "the FCCs single biggest step yet to close the digital divide and will connect up to four million rural homes and small businesses to high-speed broadband networks," Pai's office also said.

About 20 million Americans lack access to fixed broadband with speeds of at least 25Mbps down and 3Mbps up, according to FCC data.

ISPs will compete for funding

The new fund will distribute the money in a reverse auction, a type of competitive bidding process. If the resulting broadband deployment is similar to the previous program, it would end up providing wired broadband in some areas and fixed wireless in others.

The FCC said the home and business broadband buildout will "help support future 5G technologies," which may be a reference to the fact that mobile networks require plenty of fiber to provide bandwidth to cell sites. 5G could also become important for home broadband—Verizon has been using its early, non-standard version of 5G to deploy home Internet in limited parts of a few cities.

Last month, Pai Read More – Source

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Ars Technica

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