The Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) planned rural broadband experiments have garnered enormous interest from a variety of communications and network service providers. In a recent blog post, FCC strategy chief Jonathan Chambers, noted that as of March 11, the FCC has received nearly 1,000 proposals from rural telephone companies, cable operators, and wireless ISPs (WISPs) and from schools and libraries, research and education networks, and many communities. Such overwhelming interest in the rural broadband experiment program is likely to create significant pressure for the FCC to allocate all (or much) of the $50-$100 million initially identified as available for these experiments.

As explained in our recent blog post, the FCC’s rural broadband experiment is designed to test the feasibility of directing subsidies to competitors, including cable operators, CLECs, and wireless ISPs, that will deploy last mile broadband (3 Mbps downstream/768 kbps upstream) facilities to unserved areas. Recognizing that interest in this program is substantial, the FCC will next turn to developing final program regulations, as well as rules to implement its planned application-based competitive bidding process.

To that end the agency will be hosting a workshop on Tuesday, March 19. Workshop participants, which include representatives from cable, telecom, satellite and WISPs, will examine issues that incentivize different types of providers to deploy broadband in rural unserved areas.

Issues explored during the workshop are likely to assist the agency with developing final regulations, which are open for comments until March 31. Specifically, the FCC is accepting comments on a variety of issues, including: the appropriate budget for this experiment, the appropriate selection criteria for choosing program participants, and many other related issues. Once those final rules are established (likely later this year), the FCC will then accept applications for participants in the program.

Parties interested in filing comments must file initial comments by March 31; and reply comments by April 15.