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e-CFR data is current as of August 4, 2020

Title 47Chapter ISubchapter BPart 54 → Subpart J


Title 47: Telecommunication
PART 54—UNIVERSAL SERVICE


Subpart J—Rural Digital Opportunity Fund


Contents
§54.801   Use of competitive bidding for Rural Digital Opportunity Fund.
§54.802   Rural Digital Opportunity Fund geographic areas, deployment obligations, and support disbursements.
§54.803   Rural Digital Opportunity Fund provider eligibility.
§54.804   Rural Digital Opportunity Fund application process.
§54.805   Rural Digital Opportunity Fund public interest obligations.
§54.806   Rural Digital Opportunity Fund reporting obligations, compliance, and recordkeeping.

Source: 85 FR 13798, Mar. 10, 2020, unless otherwise noted.

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§54.801   Use of competitive bidding for Rural Digital Opportunity Fund.

The Commission will use competitive bidding, as provided in part 1, subpart AA of this chapter, to determine the recipients of Rural Digital Opportunity Fund support and the amount of support that they may receive for specific geographic areas, subject to applicable post-auction procedures.

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§54.802   Rural Digital Opportunity Fund geographic areas, deployment obligations, and support disbursements.

(a) Geographic areas eligible for support. Rural Digital Opportunity Fund support may be made available for census blocks or other areas identified as eligible by public notice.

(b) Term of support. Rural Digital Opportunity Fund support shall be provided for ten years.

(c) Deployment obligation. (1) All recipients of Rural Digital Opportunity Fund support must complete deployment to 40 percent of the required number of locations as determined by the Connect America Cost Model by the end of the third year, to 60 percent by the end of the fourth year, and to 80 percent by the end of the fifth year. The Wireline Competition Bureau will publish updated location counts no later than the end of the sixth year. A support recipient's final service milestones will depend on whether the Wireline Competition Bureau determines there are more or fewer locations than determined by the Connect America Cost Model in the relevant areas as follows:

(i) More Locations. After the Wireline Competition Bureau adopts updated location counts, in areas where there are more locations than the number of locations determined by the Connect America Cost Model, recipients of Rural Digital Opportunity Fund support must complete deployment to 100 percent of the number of locations determined by the Connect America Cost Model by the end of the sixth year. Recipients of Rural Digital Opportunity Fund support must then complete deployment to 100 percent of the additional number of locations determined by the Wireline Competition Bureau's updated location count by end of the eighth year. If the new location count exceeds 35% of the number of locations determined by the Connect America Cost Model within their area in each state, recipients of Rural Digital Opportunity Fund support will have the opportunity to seek additional support or relief.

(ii) Fewer Locations. In areas where there are fewer locations than the number of locations determined by the Connect America Cost Model, a Rural Digital Opportunity Fund support recipient must notify the Wireline Competition Bureau no later than March 1 following the fifth year of deployment. Upon confirmation by the Wireline Competition Bureau, Rural Digital Opportunity Fund support recipients must complete deployment to the number of locations required by the new location count by the end of the sixth year. Support recipients for which the new location count is less than 65 percent of the Connect America Cost Model locations within their area in each state shall have the support amount reduced on a pro rata basis by the number of reduced locations.

(iii) Newly Built Locations. In addition to offering the required service to the updated number of locations identified by the Wireline Competition Bureau, Rural Digital Opportunity Fund support recipients must offer service to locations built since the revised count, upon reasonable request. Support recipients are not required to deploy to any location built after milestone year eight.

(d) Disbursement of Rural Digital Opportunity Fund funding. An eligible telecommunications carrier will be advised by public notice when it is authorized to receive support. The public notice will detail how disbursements will be made.

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§54.803   Rural Digital Opportunity Fund provider eligibility.

(a) Any eligible telecommunications carrier is eligible to receive Rural Digital Opportunity Fund support in eligible areas.

(b) An entity may obtain eligible telecommunications carrier designation after public notice of winning bidders in the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund auction.

(c) To the extent any entity seeks eligible telecommunications carrier designation prior to public notice of winning bidders for Rural Digital Opportunity Fund support, its designation as an eligible telecommunications carrier may be conditioned subject to receipt of Rural Digital Opportunity Fund support.

(d) Any Connect America Phase II auction participant that defaulted on all of its Connect America Phase II auction winning bids is barred from participating in the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund.

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§54.804   Rural Digital Opportunity Fund application process.

(a) In addition to providing information specified in §1.21001(b) of this chapter and any other information required by the Commission, any applicant to participate in competitive bidding for Rural Digital Opportunity Fund support shall:

(1) Provide ownership information as set forth in §1.2112(a) of this chapter;

(2) Certify that the applicant is financially and technically qualified to meet the public interest obligations established for Rural Digital Opportunity Fund support;

(3) Disclose its status as an eligible telecommunications carrier to the extent applicable and certify that it acknowledges that it must be designated as an eligible telecommunications carrier for the area in which it will receive support prior to being authorized to receive support;

(4) Describe the technology or technologies that will be used to provide service for each bid;

(5) Submit any information required to establish eligibility for any bidding weights adopted by the Commission in an order or public notice;

(6) To the extent that an applicant plans to use spectrum to offer its voice and broadband services, demonstrate it has the proper authorizations, if applicable, and access to operate on the spectrum it intends to use, and that the spectrum resources will be sufficient to cover peak network usage and deliver the minimum performance requirements to serve all of the fixed locations in eligible areas, and certify that it will retain its access to the spectrum for the term of support;

(7) Submit operational and financial information.

(i) If applicable, the applicant should submit a certification that it has provided a voice, broadband, and/or electric transmission or distribution service for at least two years or that it is a wholly-owned subsidiary of such an entity, and specifying the number of years the applicant or its parent company has been operating, and submit the financial statements from the prior fiscal year that are audited by an independent certified public accountant. If the applicant is not audited in the ordinary course of business, in lieu of submitting audited financial statements it must submit unaudited financial statements from the prior fiscal year and certify that it will provide financial statements from the prior fiscal year that are audited by an independent certified public accountant by a specified deadline during the long-form application review process.

(A) If the applicant has provided a voice and/or broadband service it must certify that it has filed FCC Form 477s as required during this time period.

(B) If the applicant has operated only an electric transmission or distribution service, it must submit qualified operating or financial reports that it has filed with the relevant financial institution for the relevant time period along with a certification that the submission is a true and accurate copy of the reports that were provided to the relevant financial institution.

(ii) If an applicant cannot meet the requirements in paragraph (a)(7)(i) of this section, in the alternative it must submit the audited financial statements from the three most recent fiscal years and a letter of interest from a bank meeting the qualifications set forth in paragraph (c)(2) of this section, that the bank would provide a letter of credit as described in paragraph (c) of this section to the bidder if the bidder were selected for bids of a certain dollar magnitude.

(8) Certify that the applicant has performed due diligence concerning its potential participation in the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund.

(b) Application by winning bidders for Rural Digital Opportunity Fund support—

(1) Deadline. As provided by public notice, winning bidders for Rural Digital Opportunity Fund support or their assignees shall file an application for Rural Digital Opportunity Fund support no later than the number of business days specified after the public notice identifying them as winning bidders.

(2) Application contents. An application for Rural Digital Opportunity Fund support must contain:

(i) Identification of the party seeking the support, including ownership information as set forth in §1.2112(a) of this chapter;

(ii) Certification that the applicant is financially and technically qualified to meet the public interest obligations for Rural Digital Opportunity Fund support in each area for which it seeks support;

(iii) Certification that the applicant will meet the relevant public interest obligations, including the requirement that it will offer service at rates that are equal or lower to the Commission's reasonable comparability benchmarks for fixed wireline services offered in urban areas;

(iv) A description of the technology and system design the applicant intends to use to deliver voice and broadband service, including a network diagram which must be certified by a professional engineer. The professional engineer must certify that the network is capable of delivering, to at least 95 percent of the required number of locations in each relevant state, voice and broadband service that meets the requisite performance requirements for Rural Digital Opportunity Fund support;

(v) Certification that the applicant will have available funds for all project costs that exceed the amount of support to be received from the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund for the first two years of its support term and that the applicant will comply with all program requirements, including service milestones;

(vi) A description of how the required construction will be funded, including financial projections that demonstrate the applicant can cover the necessary debt service payments over the life of the loan, if any;

(vii) Certification that the party submitting the application is authorized to do so on behalf of the applicant; and

(viii) Such additional information as the Commission may require.

(3) Letter of credit commitment letter. No later than the number of days provided by public notice, the long-form applicant shall submit a letter from a bank meeting the eligibility requirements outlined in paragraph (c) of this section committing to issue an irrevocable stand-by letter of credit, in the required form, to the long-form applicant. The letter shall at a minimum provide the dollar amount of the letter of credit and the issuing bank's agreement to follow the terms and conditions of the Commission's model letter of credit.

(4) Audited financial statements. No later than the number of days provided by public notice, if a long-form applicant or a related entity did not submit audited financial statements in the relevant short-form application as required, the long-form applicant must submit the financial statements from the prior fiscal year that are audited by an independent certified public accountant.

(5) Eligible telecommunications carrier designation. No later than 180 days after the public notice identifying it as a winning bidder, the long-form applicant shall certify that it is an eligible telecommunications carrier in any area for which it seeks support and submit the relevant documentation supporting that certification.

(6) Application processing. (i) No application will be considered unless it has been submitted in an acceptable form during the period specified by public notice. No applications submitted or demonstrations made at any other time shall be accepted or considered.

(ii) Any application that, as of the submission deadline, either does not identify the applicant seeking support as specified in the public notice announcing application procedures or does not include required certifications shall be denied.

(iii) An applicant may be afforded an opportunity to make minor modifications to amend its application or correct defects noted by the applicant, the Commission, the Administrator, or other parties. Minor modifications include correcting typographical errors in the application and supplying non-material information that was inadvertently omitted or was not available at the time the application was submitted.

(iv) Applications to which major modifications are made after the deadline for submitting applications shall be denied. Major modifications include, but are not limited to, any changes in the ownership of the applicant that constitute an assignment or change of control, or the identity of the applicant, or the certifications required in the application.

(v) After receipt and review of the applications, a public notice shall identify each long-form applicant that may be authorized to receive Rural Digital Opportunity Fund support after the long-form applicant submits a letter of credit and an accompanying opinion letter as described in paragraph (c) of this section, in a form acceptable to the Commission. Each such long-form applicant shall submit a letter of credit and accompanying opinion letter as required by paragraph (c) of this section, in a form acceptable to the Commission no later than the number of business days provided by public notice.

(vi) After receipt of all necessary information, a public notice will identify each long-form applicant that is authorized to receive Rural Digital Opportunity Fund support.

(c) Letter of credit. Before being authorized to receive Rural Digital Opportunity Fund support, a winning bidder shall obtain an irrevocable standby letter of credit which shall be acceptable in all respects to the Commission.

(1) Value. Each recipient authorized to receive Rural Digital Opportunity Fund support shall maintain the standby letter of credit in an amount equal to, at a minimum, one year of support, until the Universal Service Administrative Company has verified that the recipient has served 100 percent of the Connect America Cost Model-determined location total (or the adjusted Connect America Cost Model location count if there are fewer locations) by the end of year six.

(i) For year one of a recipient's support term, it must obtain a letter of credit valued at an amount equal to one year of support.

(ii) For year two of a recipient's support term, it must obtain a letter of credit valued at an amount equal to eighteen months of support.

(iii) For year three of a recipient's support term, it must obtain a letter of credit valued at an amount equal to two years of support.

(iv) For year four of a recipient's support term, it must obtain a letter of credit valued at an amount equal to three years of support.

(v) A recipient may obtain a new letter of credit or renew its existing letter of credit so that it is valued at an amount equal to one year of support once it meets its optional or required service milestones. The recipient may obtain or renew this letter of credit upon verification of its buildout by the Universal Service Administrative Company. The recipient may maintain its letter of credit at this level for the remainder of its deployment term, so long as the Universal Service Administrative Company verifies that the recipient successfully and timely meets its remaining required service milestones.

(vi) A recipient that fails to meet its required service milestones must obtain a new letter of credit or renew its existing letter of credit at an amount equal to its existing letter of credit, plus an additional year of support, up to a maximum of three years of support.

(vii) A recipient that fails to meet two or more required service milestones must maintain a letter of credit in the amount of three year of support and may be subject to additional non-compliance penalties as described in §54.320(d).

(2) Bank eligibility. The bank issuing the letter of credit shall be acceptable to the Commission. A bank that is acceptable to the Commission is:

(i) Any United States bank

(A) That is insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, and

(B) That has a bank safety rating issued by Weiss of B− or better; or

(ii) CoBank, so long as it maintains assets that place it among the 100 largest United States Banks, determined on basis of total assets as of the calendar year immediately preceding the issuance of the letter of credit and it has a long-term unsecured credit rating issued by Standard & Poor's of BBB− or better (or an equivalent rating from another nationally recognized credit rating agency); or

(iii) The National Rural Utilities Cooperative Finance Corporation, so long as it maintains assets that place it among the 100 largest United States Banks, determined on basis of total assets as of the calendar year immediately preceding the issuance of the letter of credit and it has a long-term unsecured credit rating issued by Standard & Poor's of BBB− or better (or an equivalent rating from another nationally recognized credit rating agency); or

(iv) Any non-United States bank:

(A) That is among the 100 largest non-U.S. banks in the world, determined on the basis of total assets as of the end of the calendar year immediately preceding the issuance of the letter of credit (determined on a U.S. dollar equivalent basis as of such date);

(B) Has a branch office in the District of Columbia or such other branch office agreed to by the Commission;

(C) Has a long-term unsecured credit rating issued by a widely-recognized credit rating agency that is equivalent to a BBB− or better rating by Standard & Poor's; and

(D) Issues the letter of credit payable in United States dollars

(3) Bankruptcy opinion letter. A long-form applicant for Rural Digital Opportunity Fund support shall provide with its letter of credit an opinion letter from its legal counsel clearly stating, subject only to customary assumptions, limitations, and qualifications, that in a proceeding under Title 11 of the United States Code, 11 U.S.C. 101 et seq. (the “Bankruptcy Code”), the bankruptcy court would not treat the letter of credit or proceeds of the letter of credit as property of the winning bidder's bankruptcy estate under section 541 of the Bankruptcy Code.

(4) Non-compliance. .Authorization to receive Rural Digital Opportunity Fund support is conditioned upon full and timely performance of all of the requirements set forth in this section, and any additional terms and conditions upon which the support was granted.

(i) Failure by a Rural Digital Opportunity Fund support recipient to meet its service milestones for the location totals determined by the Connect America Cost Model, or the location total that is adjusted by the Wireline Competition Bureau for those areas where there are fewer locations than the number of locations determined by the Connect America Cost Model, as required by §54.802 will trigger reporting obligations and the withholding of support as described in §54.320(d). Failure to come into full compliance during the relevant cure period as described in §§54.320(d)(1)(iv)(B) or 54.320(d)(2) will trigger a recovery action by the Universal Service Administrative Company as described in §54.320(d)(1)(iv)(B) or §54.806(c)(1)(i), as applicable. If the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund recipient does not repay the requisite amount of support within six months, the Universal Service Administrative Company will be entitled to draw the entire amount of the letter of credit and may disqualify the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund support recipient from the receipt of Rural Digital Opportunity Fund support or additional universal service support.

(ii) The default will be evidenced by a letter issued by the Chief of the Wireline Competition Bureau, or its respective designees, which letter, attached to a standby letter of credit draw certificate, shall be sufficient for a draw on the standby letter of credit for the entire amount of the standby letter of credit.

Effective Date Note: At 85 FR 13798, Mar. 10, 2020, §54.804 was revised. Paragraphs (a) through (c) contain information collection and recordkeeping requirements and will not become effective until approval has been given by the Office of Management and Budget.

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§54.805   Rural Digital Opportunity Fund public interest obligations.

(a) Recipients of Rural Digital Opportunity Fund support are required to offer broadband service with latency suitable for real-time applications, including Voice over internet Protocol, and usage capacity that is reasonably comparable to comparable offerings in urban areas, at rates that are reasonably comparable to rates for comparable offerings in urban areas. For purposes of determining reasonable comparable usage capacity, recipients are presumed to meet this requirement if they meet or exceed the usage level announced by public notice issued by the Wireline Competition Bureau. For purposes of determining reasonable comparability of rates, recipients are presumed to meet this requirement if they offer rates at or below the applicable benchmark to be announced annually by public notice issued by the Wireline Competition Bureau, or no more than the non-promotional prices charged for a comparable fixed wireline service in urban areas in the state or U.S. Territory where the eligible telecommunications carrier receives support.

(b) Recipients of Rural Digital Opportunity Fund support are required to offer broadband service meeting the performance standards for the relevant performance tier.

(1) Rural Digital Opportunity Fund support recipients meeting the minimum performance tier standards are required to offer broadband service at actual speeds of at least 25 Mbps downstream and 3 Mbps upstream and offer a minimum usage allowance of 250 GB per month, or that reflects the average usage of a majority of fixed broadband customers as announced annually by the Wireline Competition Bureau over the 10-year term.

(2) Rural Digital Opportunity Fund support recipients meeting the baseline performance tier standards are required to offer broadband service at actual speeds of at least 50 Mbps downstream and 5 Mbps upstream and offer a minimum usage allowance of 250 GB per month, or that reflects the average usage of a majority of fixed broadband customers as announced annually by the Wireline Competition Bureau over the 10-year term.

(2) Rural Digital Opportunity Fund support recipients meeting the above-baseline performance tier standards are required to offer broadband service at actual speeds of at least 100 Mbps downstream and 20 Mbps upstream and offer at least 2 terabytes of monthly usage.

(3) Rural Digital Opportunity Fund support recipients meeting the Gigabit performance tier standards are required to offer broadband service at actual speeds of at least 1 Gigabit per second downstream and 500 Mbps upstream and offer at least 2 terabytes of monthly usage.

(4) For each of the tiers in paragraphs (b)(1) through (3) of this section, bidders are required to meet one of two latency performance levels:

(i) Low-latency bidders will be required to meet 95 percent or more of all peak period measurements of network round trip latency at or below 100 milliseconds; and

(ii) High-latency bidders will be required to meet 95 percent or more of all peak period measurements of network round trip latency at or below 750 ms and, with respect to voice performance, demonstrate a score of four or higher using the Mean Opinion Score (MOS).

(c) Recipients of Rural Digital Opportunity Fund support are required to bid on category one telecommunications and internet access services in response to a posted FCC Form 470 seeking broadband service that meets the connectivity targets for the schools and libraries universal service support program for eligible schools and libraries (as described in §54.501) located within any area in a census block where the carrier is receiving Rural Digital Opportunity Fund support. Such bids must be at rates reasonably comparable to rates charged to eligible schools and libraries in urban areas for comparable offerings.

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§54.806   Rural Digital Opportunity Fund reporting obligations, compliance, and recordkeeping.

(a) Recipients of Rural Digital Opportunity Fund support shall be subject to the reporting obligations set forth in §§54.313, 54.314, and 54.316.

(b) Recipients of Rural Digital Opportunity Fund support shall be subject to the compliance measures, recordkeeping requirements and audit requirements set forth in §54.320(a)-(c).

(c) Recipients of Rural Digital Opportunity Fund support shall be subject to the non-compliance measures set forth in §54.320(d) subject to the following modifications related to the recovery of support.

(1) If the support recipient does not report it has come into full compliance after the grace period for its sixth year or eighth year service milestone as applicable or if USAC determines in the course of a compliance review that the eligible telecommunications carrier does not have sufficient evidence to demonstrate that it is offering service to all of the locations required by the sixth or eighth year service milestone as set forth in §54.320(d)(3):

(i) Sixth year service milestone. Support will be recovered as follows after the sixth year service milestone grace period or if USAC later determines in the course of a compliance review that a support recipient does not have sufficient evidence to demonstrate that it was offering service to all of the locations required by the sixth year service milestone:

(A) If an ETC has deployed to 95 percent or more of the Connect America Cost Model location count or the adjusted Connect America Cost Model location count if there are fewer locations, but less than 100 percent, USAC will recover an amount of support that is equal to 1.25 times the average amount of support per location received in the state for that ETC over the support term for the relevant number of locations;

(B) If an ETC has deployed to 90 percent or more of the Connect America Cost Model location count or the adjusted Connect America Cost Model location count if there are fewer locations, but less than 95 percent, USAC will recover an amount of support that is equal to 1.5 times the average amount of support per location received in the state for that ETC over the support term for the relevant number of locations, plus 5 percent of the support recipient's total Rural Digital Opportunity Fund support authorized over the 10-year support term for that state;

(C) If an ETC has deployed to fewer than 90 percent of the Connect America Cost Model location count or the adjusted Connect America Cost Model location count if there are fewer locations, USAC will recover an amount of support that is equal to 1.75 times the average amount of support per location received in the state for that ETC over the support term for the relevant number of locations, plus 10 percent of the support recipient's total Rural Digital Opportunity Fund support authorized over the 10-year support term for that state.

(ii) Eighth year service milestone. If a Rural Digital Opportunity Fund support recipient is required to serve more new locations than determined by the Connect America Cost Model, support will be recovered as follows after the eighth year service milestone grace period or if USAC later determines in the course of a compliance review that a support recipient does not have sufficient evidence to demonstrate that it was offering service to all of the locations required by the eighth year service milestone:

(A) If an ETC has deployed to 95 percent or more of its new location count, but less than 100 percent, USAC will recover an amount of support that is equal to the average amount of support per location received in the state for that ETC over the support term for the relevant number of locations;

(B) If an ETC has deployed to 90 percent or more of its new location count, but less than 95 percent, USAC will recover an amount of support that is equal to 1.25 times the average amount of support per location received in the state for that ETC over the support term for the relevant number of locations;

(C) If an ETC has deployed to 85 percent or more of its new location count, but less than 90 percent, USAC will recover an amount of support that is equal to 1.5 times the average amount of support per location received in the state for that ETC over the support term for the relevant number of locations, plus 5 percent of the support recipient's total Rural Digital Opportunity Fund support authorized over the 10-year support term for that state;

(D) If an ETC has deployed to less than 85 percent of its new location count, USAC will recover an amount of support that is equal to 1.75 times the average amount of support per location received in the state for that ETC over the support term for the relevant number of locations, plus 10 percent of the support recipient's total Rural Digital Opportunity Fund support authorized over the 10-year support term for that state.

(2) Any support recipient that believes it cannot meet the third-year service milestone must notify the Wireline Competition Bureau within 10 business days of the third-year service milestone deadline and provide information explaining this expected deficiency. If a support recipient has not made such a notification by March 1 following the third-year service milestone, and has deployed to fewer than 20 percent of the required number of locations by the end of the third year, the recipient will immediately be in default and subject to support recovery. The Tier 4 status six-month grace period as set forth in §54.320(d)(iv) will not be applicable.

Effective Date Note: At 85 FR 13798, Mar. 10, 2020, §54.806 was added. This section contains information collection and recordkeeping requirements and will not become effective until approval has been given by the Office of Management and Budget.

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