WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) said on Monday it has awarded $9.2 billion to provide high-speed broadband internet service to 5.22 million unserved homes and businesses, boosting access in rural areas.
The FCC said in its “Rural Digital Opportunity Fund” auction that Charter Communications Inc won $1.22 billion to provide service to 1.06 million locations, while Elon Musk’s SpaceX won $885 million to serve 642,000 locations.
The Rural Electric Cooperative Consortium won $1.1 billion to serve 618,000 locations and LTD Broadband LLC won $1.32 billion to serve 528,000 locations.
A lack of internet access in rural areas is a major political issue in the United States and hinders economic growth and economic opportunities in places without access, lawmakers say. President-elect Joe Biden has vowed to expand broadband access to all Americans.
A May FCC report said 18.3 million people in the United States lack access to broadband, but Democrats say that underestimates the problem, while Republicans note the report found the number without access has fallen by 30% since 2016.
The FCC estimated the latest funding will expand broadband to more than 10 million rural Americans.
SpaceX is developing a broadband internet system with low latency, or time delay, using low Earth orbit satellites.
Nearly all the locations will receive broadband with upload and download speeds of at least 100/20 megabits per second (Mbps) with an overwhelming majority – over 85% – getting gigabit-speed broadband. The funds will be distributed over the next 10 years.
The FCC said $6.8 billion in funding that was not awarded will be rolled over into a future auction that can use up to $11.2 billion to target partially served areas and remaining unserved areas.
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said the auction was “technologically neutral” and structured to “prioritize bids for high-speed, low-latency offerings.”
(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Nick Macfie and Richard Pullin)