Three companies had winning bids for Indiana County as part of a Federal Communications Commission auction that will allocate more than $368.7 million to expand broadband over the next 10 years to 184,505 unserved homes and businesses in 66 of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties.
That includes 5,911 entities in Indiana County for which approximately $14.1 million was bid in the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund Phase I auction.
The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission said RUDOF is a federally operated program and the funding was awarded to private companies that have the responsibility to meet the federal requirements of the program, outside the jurisdiction of the PUC.
“This is a success for everyone in Pennsylvania who has worked to educate stakeholders about the FCC auction process,” PUC Chairman Gladys Brown Dutrieuille said. “This hard work will help residents and businesses in underserved regions get access to more high-speed broadband services.”
Windstream Services LLC, debtor-in-possession, is getting more than $12.4 million to cover 4,538 homes and businesses in the county, while Space Exploration Technologies Corp.’s bid of more than $1.45 million covers 1,240 homes and businesses, and Commnet Wireless LLC’s bid of $291,526 covers 133 homes and businesses.
The FCC said nearly all locations in Pennsylvania that were eligible for the auction will receive access to broadband with speeds of at least 100/20 Mbps, with 64 percent getting gigabit-speed broadband. It said the auction unleashed robust competition that resulted in more locations being awarded at less cost to Americans who pay into the FCC’s Universal Service Fund.
Outgoing FCC Chairman Ajit Pai called the auction great news for many rural Pennsylvania communities that for too long have been on the wrong side of the digital divide.
“We structured this innovative and groundbreaking auction to prioritize bids for high-speed, low-latency services to deliver the best results for rural Americans, and the results show that this strategy worked,” Pai said.
The FCC chairman called the auction his agency’s single largest step ever taken toward delivering digital opportunity to every American, and “another key success in our ongoing commitment to universal service.”
The PUC said successful funding happened because of stakeholders who supported and encouraged outreach on this matter, including Gov. Tom Wolf’s office, legislators from across the state, and Penn State University’s Rural Extension Program, who developed a detailed and publicly available map to aid interested bidders.
The PUC said only a handful of states are receiving more broadband support than Pennsylvania, with bidders and projects across the Commonwealth being more successful than those in 43 other states.
In all, 11 companies had winning bids across the Keystone State, with Windstream and Space Exploration also the successful bidders in every area county.
Commnet also had winning bids in Centre, Columbia, Fulton, Juniata, Monroe, Pike, Sullivan and Wayne counties.
The FCC said the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund Phase I auction is part of a broader effort by that agency to close the digital divide in rural America. In October, the FCC adopted rules creating the 5G Fund for Rural America, which will distribute $9.2 billion to bring 5G wireless broadband connectivity to rural America, including 49 states and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.
In turn, the PUC said it has long advocated for a strong Pennsylvania voice and presence in the federal auction process — urging concerned residents, businesses and other stakeholders to press the FCC to ensure that the federal funding process gives initial priority to unserved communities.