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76 | BROADBAND COMMUNITIES | www.broadbandcommunities.com | MARCH/APRIL 2014 BROADBAND POLICY FCC to Fund 'Race to the Top' Experiments Are you ready for gigabit to the farm? Providers will compete for new funding to deliver world-class broadband to rural areas. The outcome of this FCC program may well shape the future of U.S. support for rural broadband. If you are interested in providing FTTH in rural areas, submit an expression of interest or an application for this program. By Masha Zager / Broadband Communities I n June 2013, the Fiber to the Home Council Americas petitioned the Federal Communications Commission to fund a "Gigabit Communities Race to the Top" in rural areas. Te proposal, which was intended to demonstrate new models for investment and jump-start the development of ultra-high-speed applications, suggested a competitive program of matching grants for projects in Tier-2 and Tier-3 markets. Communities would work with service providers to develop innovative proposals for bringing symmetrical gigabit connections to community anchor institutions and their neighboring communities. Te FCC – which has been criticized in recent years for consigning rural areas to second-class broadband – was intrigued with the Council's proposal and adopted a version of it in the January 30, 2014, order that promoted the transition to IP-based networks. In a recent FTTH Council webinar, attorney Tom Cohen of Kelley Drye and Warren spoke with two FCC stafers – Jonathan Chambers, chief of the Ofce of Strategic Planning and Policy Analysis, and Carol Mattey, deputy chief of the Wireline Competition Bureau – about the new program and what it will mean for rural communities. Cohen explained that the program will be funded from unallocated monies in the Connect America Fund (CAF), the successor to the Universal Service Fund (USF) high-cost program. Te original USF high-cost program subsidized telephone service in high-cost, mostly rural areas; CAF encourages broadband buildout in underserved, high-cost areas. (With the eventual transition to IP, there will no longer be a dedicated telephone network.) In general, CAF support is intended to provide low-end (4 Mbps/1 Mbps) broadband, but this experimental program aims to deliver high-speed fber or wireless services to high- cost areas that currently lack 3 Mbps/768 Kbps broadband. Community anchor institutions, including schools and libraries, are particular areas of concern. Te FCC requested nonbinding expressions of interest from potential applicants – almost any type of private or public entity is eligible – by March 7. As of March 13, it had received about 1,000 expressions of interest and was still accepting new ones. It plans to get the program underway before the end of 2014. An organization can apply for funding even if it does not submit an expression of interest. To speed up the process, challenges by incumbent providers will be made after funds are awarded, rather than before. In addition, applicants can obtain eligible telecommunications carrier status (which entitles BBC_Mar14.indd 76 3/14/14 3:21 PM