The winning bidders in the recent Federal Communications Commission (FCC) RDOF Phase I auction have a significant opportunity to establish their business and grow their customer base. However, expanding networks in areas with low-density populations brings financial and operational challenges. Winners need to meet the FCC requirements to deliver gigabit speeds and reach 40 percent of locations within each census block by the end of the third year of funding.1

To economically bring high-speed broadband to underserved areas within the auction timelines, RDOF winners need to have a solid network plan and execution strategy. Here are five insights that can help winners balance their financial, technical, and operational resources in meeting the FCC’s requirements.

1. Evaluate Network Options

Fiber optics has become the base infrastructure medium for telecommunications networks, because of its ability to transmit extremely high bandwidth over a long distance with low interference. However, the tradeoff for using fiber is the significant capital investment to deploy the network to each customer, especially in rural locations. Companies looking to bridge the rural divide are increasingly solving this challenge through the deployment of hybrid networks, utilizing fiber as the core infrastructure in dense areas and serving the rural last mile through fixed wireless, which allows them to meet cost and build plan requirements. Newly released CBRS spectrum can help provide RDOF winners with an alternative to fiber to connect the last mile. Evaluating these network options and considerations is an important part of planning your network.

2. Assess Target Markets

As a leader in wireless infrastructure solutions, American Tower can help with this analysis. We offer more than 42,000 towers across the U.S., including approximately 2,300 newly acquired towers of which approximately 76 percent are in or within three miles of RDOF census blocks. Additionally, more than 60 percent of our tower portfolio is in rural and suburban areas, and more than 80 percent of those towers are 150 feet or taller.2 Our portfolio includes towers located in geographically challenging areas, situated with vantage points to target even the most remote populations.

We can provide RDOF recipients a free customized market assessment, which details:

  • Census block coverage, using a combination of our towers

  • Population statistics within reach from each tower to assess ROI

  • Wireless propagation estimates from tower to tower to assess microwave link capabilities

3. Leverage Turnkey Services to Simplify and Accelerate Deployments

Major network expansions can inevitably put technical and operational pressure on in-house resources. Our Site Development Services can help reduce internal burdens and accelerate timelines. Our experts are also experienced in supporting providers new to deploying wireless solutions.

American Tower specializes in all aspects of collocation—site acquisition, engineering, and construction management—to speed your time to market. Our experts can deliver a range of services, including:

  • Site Acquisition – Critical programs to expedite design requirements and real estate entitlements, getting customers on air faster

  • Engineering – Experienced industry engineers to maintain the safety and longevity of our assets, helping to ensure our portfolio can meet the needs of customers

  • Construction Management – Construction professionals and approved vendors to manage network deployments, so customers can focus on other business priorities

4. Seek a Partner With the Flexibility to Meet Deadlines

With our size and financial strength, we can tailor strategies for each customer’s unique situation.

American Tower offers flexible commercial structures to align with RDOF schedules. At the same time, we can offer multisite agreements, with predictable pricing structures, to help winners prepare for subsequent roll-out phases. This staged approach ensures each FCC deadline is met, but relieves the financial pressure of paying for future sites before funds are received.

5. Find a Long-Term Partner

Working with a highly experienced and flexible partner helps RDOF recipients reduce risks at every stage of network expansion, through funding program timelines and beyond.

We have extensive experience helping Wireless Internet Service Providers (WISPs), local exchange carriers, and other rural operators cost effectively expand their networks, meet funding milestones, and grow their businesses.

Let us help you choose the best approach to meet the time, cost, and technical commitments to leverage the RDOF. Simply complete our online form to request your free market assessment.

For more insight:

  • Learn how we helped Watch Communications develop an effective strategy to leverage their CAF II funding.

1 FCC Fact Sheet Rural Opportunity Digital Fund, January 9, 2020.

2 Based on American Tower methodology leveraging U.S. Census population data.

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