This week, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai announced initial estimates show 236,000 homes and businesses in Missouri, and 222,000 in Arkansas, could benefit from Phase I of the $20.4 billion Rural Digital Opportunity Fund to be voted on by the FCC on Jan. 30.

About 6 million rural homes and businesses nationwide could be eligible for bidding in an auction slated for later this year to receive funding for high-speed broadband. Pai’s announcement pertains to Phase I funding, which would target $16 billion to census blocks with no broadband service at all meeting the commission’s minimum speed standards. The remainder of the funding would be disbursed during Phase II.  

“The digital divide affects many people in many rural communities. I’ve said that the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund would be our boldest step yet to bridge this divide, and today we get a glimpse of the broad impact this investment in rural America would have across the country,” said Pai. “Our staff’s initial estimate shows that in 25 states there would be more than 100,000 locations that would be eligible for Phase I of the Fund, and the benefits would be felt from the Pacific Coast to the Great Plains, and from Appalachia to the Gulf Coast.”

The fund would allocate $20.4 billion through a reverse-auction format to connect millions of rural homes and small businesses to high-speed broadband networks, targeting areas that lack access to 25/3 Mbps broadband services.

The process would involve two stages. During Phase I, the FCC would target $16 billion to areas that are wholly unserved by such broadband, where there is no 25/3 Mbps service at all. For Phase II, the FCC would use its new granular broadband mapping approach, called the Digital Opportunity Data Collection, to target unserved households in areas that are partially served by such broadband — areas where some households have access to 25/3 Mbps service but others do not.

Phase II would also include areas that do not receive winning bids in Phase I.

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