Archive for month: April, 2020

GeoLinks Reply Comments on RDOF Competitive Bidding Procedures and Program Requirements

REPLY COMMENTS OF CALIFORNIA INTERNET, L.P. DBA GEOLINKS

California Internet, L.P. DBA GeoLinks (“GeoLinks” or the “Company”) submits these Reply Comments in response to Comments filed on the Public Notice, seeking input on proposed pre-auction and bidding processes proposed for Phase I of the upcoming Rural Digital Opportunity (“RDOF”) reverse auction.[1]

  1. INTRODUCTION AND SUMMARY

GeoLinks largely supports the pre-auction bidding procedures and processes for the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (“RDOF”) proposed in the Public Notice and believes they strike the right balance to ensure a fair and successful auction.  However, GeoLinks believes that some further steps must be taken to ensure efficient use of RDOF funding.  GeoLinks provides these reply comments in response to comments filed on the Commission’s proposed RDOF pre-auction and bidding processes.

  1. DISCUSSION
  2. The Record Supports Limiting Satellite Providers from Bidding in the Gigabit and Above Baseline Performance Tiers

In its opening Comments, GeoLinks urged the Commission to limit low-earth orbit satellite providers, in addition to geostationary providers, from bidding in the Gigabit and Above Baseline performance tiers due to the lack of any reported basis for believing the technology could achieve the required speeds.  Many commenters agree and express similar concerns.  For example, TECA explains that “existing satellite services cannot provide service that is comparable to modern fixed broadband networks, and emerging low-earth orbit networks have no demonstrated capability, of any kind, at scale.”[2]  NTCA points out that “non-geostationary (low earth orbit) satellites appear not to offer any service today, Gigabit or otherwise, on a commercially available basis to residential users” and that, “there appears to be no evidence whatsoever as to what speeds low earth orbit satellites can actually achieve.”[3]

Notably, no comments filed by satellite providers show that low-earth orbit providers are currently capable of offering highspeed, low latency services of the type that would be necessary to bid at the Gigabit and Above Baseline levels.  While Telesat attempts to persuade the Commission that “there is no factual basis” for subjecting low-earth orbit satellite systems to performance-tier bidding restrictions, it fails to provide any evidence of proven speed delivery.[4]  Instead, Telesat states that its “[low-earth orbit] constellation will offer the ability to provide extremely high performance service” and “will have the capability [to] provide service at the RDOF auction ‘Gigabit’ performance tier.”[5]  Similarly, SpaceX explains that its Starlink system “will deliver low-latency broadband service” and “will deliver high-quality broadband service” but fails to state anywhere that the system does provide these services currently.[6]  In both of these instances, these providers fail to offer any information regarding actual service delivery.

Confusingly, SpaceX urges the Commission to base bidding limitations on well-known technical constraints and data, stating that “the Commission should not artificially apply such bidding prohibitions to systems that can meet the Commission’s rigorous performance requirements.”[7]  But SpaceX fails to provide anything to show that its satellite system can actually meet RDOF’s rigorous performance requirements.  While it makes claims that it has “specifically designed the Starlink system to provide high-speed broadband,” the fact remains that SpaceX’s design has not been fully tested and the Starlink system is not currently offering broadband services to consumers.[8]

GeoLinks asserts that claiming that a technology platform can do something and providing proof that a technology platform can do something are very different things.  Contrary to SpaceX’s claim, basing a limitation on a complete lack of data would not be an “artificial application” of bidding prohibitions – it would be a prudent measure to protect the Universal Service Fund (“USF”).  As Conexion points out, “public funds administered by the Commission are intended for services offered of public telecommunications networks already deployed and subscribed to by residential customers.  To afford [SpaceX] or any other satellite provider special treatment in this regard is contrary to the Communications Act and would be inconsistent with past FCC practice.”[9]

The Commission should not risk RDOF funding on aspirational service offerings.  Instead, the Commission should entrust RDOF funds to proven technologies and to service providers with track records for providing broadband services to consumers.  For these reasons, and for those set forth in the Public Notice, GeoLinks continues to urge the Commission to limit satellite providers from bidding in the Gigabit and Above Baseline speed tiers.

  1. The Commission Should Limit Service Providers That Have Never Filed A Form 477 From Bidding the Gigabit and Above Baseline Speed Tiers

In its opening comments, GeoLinks urged the Commission to implement an additional limitation in the RDOF auction to protect USF funds.  Specifically, GeoLinks asserted that the Commission should exclude service providers that have never filed a Form 477 from bidding the Gigabit and Above Baseline speed tiers.  As USTelecom explains in its opening comments, the requirement that a service provider that has never filed a Form 477 provide “additional financial information cannot substitute for real-life operational experience providing service to consumers.”[10]  By way of example, USTelecom explains that SpaceX’s recent acknowledgement “that it is still trying to get its [low-earth orbit] business up and running” shows precisely “why financial statements are not a substitute for operational experience.”[11]

The Company agrees with USTelecom and maintains that only service providers with a track record for providing broadband service (and for complying with regulatory reporting requirements) understand the rigors associated with designing, deploying, and supporting high-speed broadband networks.  For these reasons, the Commission should limit participation at the Gigabit and Above Baseline tier levels to only providers who have previously filed Form 477s.

  1. RDOF Rules Must Prohibit Service Providers from “Double Dipping” or Using RDOF Funds to Subsidize Non-US Networks

In its opening comments, GeoLinks asked the Commission to prohibit service providers from participating in RDOF if they have already received some incentive from the Commission to deploy high-speed broadband facilities to serve RDOF areas.  The Company explained that service providers that have received spectrum rights, deployment rights, merger approval, etc. from the Commission contingent upon buildout obligations that overlap with RDOF funding areas should not be eligible for grant funding for those areas.  By way of example, GeoLinks explained that because SpaceX had already made commitments regarding deployment milestone and significant geographic coverage to the Commission in exchange for spectrum rights within the Ku- and Ka-band frequencies it should not now be permitted to seek USF funding to complete those same commitments.

Along a similar vein, Conexion points out the potential issue with allowing service providers to use U.S. subsidies for global networks, like those proposed by low-earth satellite service providers.  Specifically, Conexion questions whether SpaceX should be eligible to obtain RDOF funding for its satellite network explaining that “while some of the funds could be spent on Customer Premises Equipment in the U.S., SpaceX likely intends for the vast majority of any RDOF Phase I support awarded to the company to be spent on services outside of the United States.”[12]  As GeoLinks explained in its opening comments, SpaceX has made clear that “once fully deployed” its satellite network will “provide full time coverage to virtually the entire planet.”[13]  Conexion rightly asks the Commission “whether a global network…should be subsidized by the federal Universal Service Fund.”[14]

GeoLinks asserts that in addition to not allowing service providers to “double dip” it should also not allow service providers to subsidize Non-US endeavors with USF funds.  The Company views these prohibitions as necessary to protect limited RDOF funds and ensure it is directed appropriately.

  1. The Commission Should Reject WTA’s Proposal that Applicants Should Not Be Permitted to Use Unlicensed Spectrum to Satisfy Public Interest Obligations

In its comments, WTA argues that “RDOF applicants should not be allowed to use unlicensed spectrum bands to demonstrate that they have sufficient access to spectrum, or to bid for and receive RDOF support for networks that will be constructed and operated on unlicensed spectrum bands.”[15]  WTA hinges its argument on the fact that service providers that use unlicensed spectrum can “accept significantly lower levels of RDOF support.”[16]  While WTA tries to paint this as an “unfair competitive advantage” what seems more true is that WTA’s members simply cannot compete on a level playing field with service providers utilizing unlicensed spectrum (i.e. fixed wireless providers).[17]

As GeoLinks has stated in numerous filings, fixed wireless providers have been very successful utilizing the unlicensed bands to provide high-speed broadband service.  GeoLinks, for example, is able to use unlicensed fixed wireless to provide Gigabit and near-Gigabit services to its customers throughout its service territory, which includes urban and suburban areas throughout California.  Moreover, fixed wireless operators, which predominantly use unlicensed spectrum bands, were hugely successful in the Connect America Fund Phase II (“CAF”) auction and have begun rolling out high-speed network services to CAF areas.

WTA’s proposal is nothing more than a thinly veiled attempt to stifle competition in the RDOF auction in favor of fiber-based providers.  As such, the Commission should reject WTA’s proposal outright.

  1. The Commission Should Not Delay Auction 904

GeoLinks strongly disagrees with the one commenter that urges the Commission to delay the RDOF Auction in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.[18]  Now more than ever, connecting unserved and underserved areas to highspeed broadband is critically important.  With schools closed and the majority of the workforce at home, unconnected communities lack the basic broadband access needed to ensure continuing education, remote work, or, as is the case for many Americans, the ability to apply for unemployment or seek new employment.  For these reasons, GeoLinks urges the Commission to maintain its proposed October auction date.

  • CONCLUSION

GeoLinks urges the Commission to take steps to protect RDOF funds by limiting satellite providers and those that have never filed a Form 477 from bidding Gigabit and Above Baseline performance tiers.  GeoLinks further urges the Commission to preclude service providers from “double dipping,” if they have already received some incentive from the Commission to deploy high-speed broadband facilities to areas eligible for RDOF funding, or funding global network deployment with U.S. subsidies.

 

Respectfully submitted,

California Internet, L.P. DBA GeoLinks                                                  

/s/ Skyler Ditchfield, Chief Executive Officer

/s/ Melissa Slawson, General Counsel/ V.P of Government Affairs and Education

 

April 10, 2020

[1] See Public Notice, “Comment Sought on Competitive Bidding Procedures and Certain Program Requirements for the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund Auction (Auction 904),” AU Docket No. 20-34 and WC Docket Nos. 19-126 & 10-90 (rel. Mar. 2, 2020) (“Public Notice”).

[2] Comments of the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association, AU Docket No. 20-34 and WC Docket Nos. 19-126 & 10-90 (filed Mar. 27, 2020) at 3.

[3] Comments of NTCA – The Rural Broadband Association, AU Docket No. 20-34 and WC Docket Nos. 19-126 & 10-90 (filed Mar. 27, 2020) (“NTCA Comments”) at 9 and 10, respectively.

[4] Comments of Telesat Canada, AU Docket No. 20-34 and WC Docket Nos. 19-126 & 10-90 (filed Mar. 27, 2020) at 3.

[5] Id. (emphasis added).

[6] Comments of Space Exploration Technologies Corp., AU Docket No. 20-34 and WC Docket Nos. 19-126 & 10-90 (filed Mar. 27, 2020) at 7 and 10 (emphasis added).

[7] Id. at 7

[8] Id. at 8

[9] Comments of Conexon, LLC, AU Docket No. 20-34 and WC Docket Nos. 19-126 & 10-90 (filed Mar. 27, 2020) (“Conexon Comments”) at 1

[10] Comments of USTelecom – the Broadband Association, AU Docket No. 20-34 and WC Docket Nos. 19-126 & 10-90 (filed Mar. 27, 2020) at 3.

[11] Id.

[12] Conexion Comments at 6-7

[13] Memorandum Opinion, Order and Authorization, In the Matter of Space Exploration Holdings, LLC Application for Approval for Orbital Deployment and Operating Authority for the SpaceX NGSO Satellite System; Application for Approval for Orbital Deployment And Operating Authority for Orbital Deployment and Operating Authority for the SpaceX NGSO Satellite System Supplement, IBFS File Nos. SAT-LOA-20161115-0018, Call Sign S2983, and SAT-LOA-20170726-00110, Call Sign S3018 (released March 29, 2018), at para. 33.

[14] Conexion Comments at 6

[15] Comments of WTA – Advocates for Rural Broadband, AU Docket No. 20-34 and WC Docket Nos. 19-126 & 10-90 (filed Mar. 27, 2020) at 6.

[16] Id. at 7.

[17] Id.

[18] Comments of the California Public Utilities Commission, AU Docket No. 20-34 and WC Docket Nos. 19-126 & 10-90 (filed Mar. 27, 2020) at 2.