Charter RDOF Award in Macon County 2023

 Jeff Lee, Little T Broadband

One of the first broadband grant/subsidy programs to make the news in recent years was a program called the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF). This is a federal broadband subsidy program administered by the FCC in which areas defined by census blocks were assessed as eligible for funding if no homes in that block were receiving internet service of 25/3 or better. Internet service providers bid on these eligible blocks nation-wide through a reverse auction (lowest bidder wins). RDOF auction winners receive a federal subsidy based on the number of homes in the awarded census block which is paid out over a 10 year period. The funds for this subsidy come from the Universal Service Fund (USF) which is revenue that comes from fees leveed on telecommunication providers and FCC license holders and are not based on any of the recent federal funding legislation such as ARPA or IIJA. The RDOF auction 904 was held in 2020, and winners were announced in December of 2020. Actual awards to winning providers did not start rolling out until the second half of 2021 with many awards not issued until 2022.

In the State of North Carolina, Charter Communications won most of the RDOF awards and won all eligible census blocks in Macon County. Charter’s award was received from the FCC in March of 2022, and per the rules of the RDOF program they will have until March of 2028 (6 years) to build high-speed internet connections to all homes in their awarded census blocks. Charter began receiving subsidy payments from the USF in March of 2022 and will continue to receive subsidy payments until 2032 (10 years). Though all RDOF award recipients are required by the program to meet certain build commitments, they are measured against these commitments at the state level, so as long as they are building somewhere in the state and meeting the RDOF build commitments they remain in good standing with the program.

In Macon County, the RDOF award represents 60% of the eligible unserved locations (locations with less than 25/3 service). At the County level, we want very much for Charter to succeed and build to all committed locations. This will mean that over 8000 homes and businesses in the County will receive high-speed internet. Unfortunately the RDOF program for Macon County has a number of issues.

  • Charter is not yet building in Macon County. Though Charter is actively building elsewhere, they have no infrastructure in much of WNC, with the closest presence at the start of the program in Waynesville. This means that to get service into Macon County, Charter must first build across Haywood and Jackson counties.
  • Internet service to all awarded locations in all census blocks through RDOF is not a certainty. This means that though the RDOF awards exist for 60% of the County, there is no guarantee that the program will reach all of these locations. There are a variety of factors that can affect this, and unfortunately some will not come to light until very late in the 6 year build cycle (2028).
  • Areas (census blocks) that were awarded to Charter through RDOF area NOT eligible for other federal and state grant funds available for broadband expansion as long as the RDOF award holder remains in good standing. This issue becomes very important as many state programs have a 2 year build requirement, whereas RDOF has a 6 year build requirement.

A representative from Charter recently made a presentation to the Macon County Board of Commissioners at the November 2023 meeting. A link to a copy of the public presentation made to the Commissioners can be found at the bottom of this article. During this presentation, the Charter representative indicated that engineering and field assessment work have begun for Macon County, and it is their current plan to begin construction in Macon by Q2 of 2024 and to complete construction by mid 2027.

We continue to be hopeful that Charter will meet their tentative time commitment and will build connections to all awarded locations.