SpaceX, Hughes and Viasat qualify to bid for $20.4 billion in FCC rural broadband subsidies

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WASHINGTON — SpaceX, Hughes Network Systems and Viasat are eligible to compete for a share of the $20.4 billion in broadband subsidies the FCC plans to dole out under the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) starting later this month.

The Federal Communications Commission on Oct. 13 released a list  of  “qualified bidders” for the RDOF funds, which will be awarded via reverse auction to telecom providers bidding to bring subsidized voice and broadband internet services to rural communities and other underserved parts of the United States.

FCC’s list of qualified bidders includes 386 telecom providers, including SpaceX, Hughes and Viasat.

Inclusion on the list makes them eligible to participate in an RDOF reverse auction set to begin Oct. 29. That’s when the FCC will begin accepting bids from telecom providers for delivering services to some six million homes and businesses in census blocks entirely unserved by voice and broadband with download speeds of at least 25 megabits per second. A second round of awards, the dates for which haven’t been set, will expand the program to cover partially served locations as well as locations passed over during the first round.

“Viasat is proud to be included on the FCC’s list of Qualified Bidders for the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) auction,” John Janka, Viasat chief officer for global government affairs and regulatory, told SpaceNews by email. “We believe we are well qualified to offer broadband connectivity under the FCC’s performance metrics for RDOF, but are unable to comment further given the FCC rules governing the auction process.”

While there was little doubt that Hughes and ViaSat would make the list of qualified bidders, SpaceX’s inclusion wasn’t a given because the Starlink constellation does not yet offer commercial service.

In the lead up to the competition, satellite operators complained that the