Broadband providers can now submit applications to the FCC to participate in the upcoming Connect America Fund Phase II reverse auction, which will dole out nearly $2 billion in support of rural broadband expansion efforts.

Applications are due by March 30.

Through the CAF-II reverse auction, slated to start on July 24, up to $1.98 billion in funding will be available over the next 10 years to help service providers build out infrastructure and services to provide high-speed internet access to up to 1 million homes and small businesses in rural parts of the country that are currently unserved.

“This is a unique opportunity for broadband providers to expand their service,” said FCC Chairman Ajit Pai in a statement. “More important, this is a unique opportunity to bring digital opportunity to parts of rural America that have been bypassed by the broadband revolution. So I hope that all eligible providers will give this opportunity a hard look and choose to participate.”

In a video about the application window, Pai reiterated that closing the digital divide is the FCC’s top priority and that the upcoming auction will play a big role in those efforts.

The agency is encouraging providers using all different kinds of broadband technology to participate in bidding.

“It doesn’t matter if your company is big, or small, if you’re a traditional telephone company, a cable operator, a satellite service, a fixed wireless business, or an electric utility, you too can participate in the reverse auction,” Pai said.  

Under the auction rules, successful bidders must offer at least one voice and broadband service that meet certain speed and latency requirements, in 40 percent of the required number of locations in a state by the end of the third year of receiving funds. The provider must hit an additional 20 percent target each year after that, and must meet the 100 percent threshold within six years of receiving support.

Jaime Fink, co-founder and CTO of Mimosa Networks and a member of the FCC's Broadband Development Advisory Committee praised the CAF-II auction as a positive step forward, but cautioned that the program must recognize regional and small wireless ISPs.

“The flexibility of the FCC’s auction rules means we can expect a large number of national carriers to bid for funding. However, it’s important that the FCC gives funding to a variety of service providers, to bring connectivity to America’s most isolated regions," Fink said. "With the boots on the ground and a passion to serve their local communities, regional and independent service providers can rapidly deliver high-performance broadband infrastructure.

“In order to truly fulfill the intent behind the CAF fund, new dedicated wireless broadband spectrum, and a fair share of federal funding must be made available to small and regional businesses which have the drive to connect local communities," Fink added. "If these inducements are reserved only for the mega-carriers, this well-intentioned initiative to provide better connectivity in rural America will amount to nothing more than a pipe-dream.”

Interested providers can sumbit a CAF-II application here, and see a map of eligible areas here.


Editor's note: Story updated March 20 with comments from Jaime Fink.