FCC chair predicts broadband reverse auction will help Mountain State

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The chairman of the Federal Communications Commission says he believes there will be enough companies to bid on broadband work in West Virginia at the end of October to bring new service to un-served areas.

Ajit Pai

“I think these companies have a very strong interest in deploying very quickly and if we give them the money, we give them the tools, they will connect West Virginians as soon as they possibly can,” FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said Tuesday during an appearance on MetroNews “Talkline.”

A FCC-sponsored reverse auction is scheduled to start Oct. 29 in connection with the agency’s Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF). There’s up to $20 billion available nationally. Those bidding on projects in West Virginia could receive up to $760 million, Pai said.

“That’s actually 13th most in the country. So West Virginia is punching about its weight in the money it could get in the RDOF,” Pai said.

Gov. Jim Justice, a bipartisan group of state lawmakers and statewide elected officials announced a state plan earlier this month in hopes of encouraging more private sector companies to bid on the work.

Pai said companies that can provide the best service at the lowest cost will be chosen for the grants. He said based on Census blocks, there are up to 121,000 homes where there is currently no broadband access in West Virginia. Pai predicted the work would be done and done right.

“Because of that competition, because of those accountability metrics, we know that the people who successfully bid are going to deliver for the people of West Virginia, as they say they’re going to do, or else face severe penalties from the FCC and I’d imagine from Congress too,” Pai said.

MORE Hoppy’s commentary on broadband program

Interested companies are currently seeking pre-approval. Companies that win bids will have up to 10 years to complete the projects. U.S. Senator Shelley Moore Capito predicted Tuesday infrastructure improvements in recent years will speed up the work.

“There’s so much more out here that can be deployed much quicker–so now that the money is coming I think the time will be compressed because we have so much more technology,” Capito said.

U.S. Senator Joe Manchin called Gov. Justice’s announcement about RDOF “misleading” earlier this month. Manchin has long complained about the inaccuracy of FCC broadband maps. Pai said Tuesday the maps do need work but that shouldn’t stop from addressing the areas where they know there’s no service.

“We need to get the maps right but the first thing we need to do in the immediate weeks and months ahead is to go forward with the RDOF and to make sure these un-served West Virginians, who we know are offline, finally get a chance to participate in the digitial economy,” Pai said.

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