Billions in Funding From American Rescue Plan Act May Pit Rural Carriers Against One Another

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The American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) includes up to $350 billion in funding to be distributed to the states for a variety of projects, broadband included. Rules for how that funding can be allocated are being finalized through the Treasury Department with some potentially disruptive competitive implications for rural broadband. The Treasury Department's “interim final rules” called for funding projects that provide at least 100 Mbps symmetrical service, with some exceptions allowing for 100/20 Mbps service. A more interesting aspect is how those rules define underserved markets; the funding will support projects that bring broadband to locations that currently lack access to wireline delivered service of at least 25/3 Mbps. By this strict definition, the ARPA program could fund projects that overbuild territory currently served by fixed wireless internet service providers (WISPs) who are delivering 25/3 Mbps or better (or worse). This could make for an interesting situation; will WISP competitors seek ARPA funding to overbuild existing markets, even if those WISPs are already delivering 25/3 Mbps broadband service? This is one of many challenging issues for broadband public policy and the federal and state regulators who must govern it. Issues of technology neutrality, accurate broadband access data, adequate broadband speed definitions, and more, all hang in the balance of a very high stakes game. 

Billions in Funding From ARPA May Pit Rural Carriers Against One Another