KANSAS CITY, Mo., Feb. 1, 2021 - Rural fiber-optic network design and construction management leader Conexon and members of its Rural Electric Cooperative Consortium (RECC) have been awarded over $1.1 billion through the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) Phase I auction to provide gigabit-capable broadband. Consortium members will use these funds to launch and operate fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) networks in more than 600,000 rural areas across 22 states.
The RECC, with more than 90 participating electric cooperatives, was the auction's largest bidding consortium. It was also the auction's third-highest recipient of both locations and funding, winning more states, locations and funding than any other consortium. RECC members will deploy 100% fiber networks, the only communications transmission technology proven to meet gigabit performance speed and capability requirements, and thus meet the obligations and expectations of the highest level of bidding. Universally viewed as the "gold standard" of communications transmission, fiber enables unmatched symmetrical speeds and robustness - capabilities made increasingly critical by the continued impact of the pandemic.
"We were successful again, so I trust no one will take my words as sour grapes," said Conexon Partner Jonathan Chambers. "The RDOF auction was brilliantly conceived and poorly executed. After a decade of hard work by Commission staff, the leadership of the Commission tripped in the final month leading up to the auction. The Commission committed two errors on one play - vetting bidders during the short-form application process.
"First, the Commission allowed certain companies to bid beyond their capacity to build fiber networks. The fundamental obligation of most RDOF recipients is to build networks capable of delivering gigabit service. I submit that if any of the top 25 winning fiber bidders didn't design and build as many fiber miles last year as they must construct this year, next year, and the year after, then such companies are in no position to do so.
"Second, the Commission allowed certain companies to bid beyond today's capacity of wireless technology. Nowhere in rural America do fixed wireless networks have the capacity to deliver gigabit service to every home and business in any census block group. That's the proper test, because that's the obligation of a winning bidder. Last spring, the Commission punted on the question of technological capability. Though the Commission collects billions of data points on broadband deployment, it behaved as if something that doesn't exist in its data is already widely deployed. The Commission shouldn't wait for three to four years to discover whether such capability will develop. As part of the long-form review, the Commission should require documentary evidence that rural homes and businesses over large rural areas today receive gigabit service using the technology that is being proposed to meet the RDOF obligations.
"Unless remedied by the new FCC, the prior FCC's errors will be devastating to rural communities all across the country."
The Conexon RECC RDOF award builds on previous success from the last large-scale federal communications funding auction, the 2018 Connect America Fund (CAF) II. That generation of the RECC was the largest gigabit tier winner, awarded $186 million to build FTTH networks. Since that time, Conexon and its electric cooperative clients have built over 30,000 miles of fiber to connect rural Americans to high-speed fiber internet.
"Bringing rural America to broadband parity is not only about the number of network miles built, it's about the number of customers connected and the quality of their experience," Conexon Partner Randy Klindt said. "Every one of our consortium winning bidders in the CAF II auction has built out a fiber network and offered gigabit service. The same will be true for RDOF. We have already begun designing and building networks for our winning bidders. For the future of these rural communities, there is not time to wait."
Conexon works with Rural Electric Cooperatives to bring fiber to the home in rural communities. The company is composed of professionals who have worked in electric cooperatives and the telecommunications industry, and offer decades of individual experience in business planning, building networks, marketing and selling telecommunications. Conexon offers its electric cooperative clients end-to-end broadband deployment and operations support, from a project's conception all the way through to its long-term sustainability. It works with clients to analyze economic feasibility, secure financing, design the network, manage construction, provide operational support, optimize business performance and determine optimal partnerships. To date, Conexon has assisted nearly 200 electric cooperatives, nearly 50 of which are deploying fiber networks, with more than 150,000 connected fiber-to-the-home subscribers across the U.S. The company has secured over $1.3 billion in federal and state funding for its clients.