FCC adopts A-CAM extension, raises speed requirement to 100/20 Mbps

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has decided to extend its Alternative Connect America Model (A-CAM) program, by upping the speed requirements for participating providers.

ISPs must now be able to deploy broadband speeds of at least 100 downstream and 20 Mbps upstream “to 100% of eligible locations in their areas,” according to the FCC’s release.

The so-called Enhanced A-CAM program also makes $13.5 billion in support available over a 10-year extension of the current A-CAM term.

Established in 2016, A-CAM aims to support broadband deployments in eligible high-cost areas. Thus far, it’s consisted of two iterations: A-CAM I, which required providers to deploy speeds of at least 10/1 Mbps, and A-CAM II, which the FCC introduced in 2018 and increased the speed requirement to 25/3 Mbps.

A-CAM I runs through 2026, while A-CAM II extended support through 2028. The program doesn’t require providers to use a specific type of technology for deployment. 447 companies currently participate in the A-CAM program, said the FCC, and they operate in 45 states and territories.

The FCC had considered extending A-CAM since May of last year, when it issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to see whether it should adopt changes suggested by the ACAM Broadband Coalition, which is comprised of rural operators like TDS Telecom, Great Plains Communications and others.

The A-CAM changes come not long after the FCC updated its national broadband map and the White House announced state allocations for the Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment (BEAD) program.

According to the FCC, the A-CAM extension “aligns deployment milestones” with the BEAD program, by requiring participating providers to deploy to all locations within a four-year period.

Further, A-CAM leverages the FCC map and the agency’s Broadband Data Collection system “to determine locations to which participating carriers are obligated to deploy.” Providers that receive funding are also required to participate in the Affordable Connectivity Program.

TDS, which serves nearly 160,000 locations under the current A-CAM program, commended the FCC’s decision.

“While important program details remain under review, this action is an important step toward providing Americans in rural areas with high-speed broadband,” said Drew Petersen, TDS’ SVP of corporate affairs, in a statement. “This decision illustrates the Commission’s steadfast commitment to delivering high-quality and affordable internet services to every American.”

In light of the recent influx of broadband funding, the FCC said it’s seeking comment on further reforms to the legacy rate-of-return system as well as methods for modifying the Universal Service Fund’s high-cost program, which A-CAM falls under.

NTCA – The Rural Broadband Association is another proponent of the A-CAM changes. EVP Mike Romano noted in a statement “it will take time to review and determine how today’s order will affect the consumers and communities in areas served by NTCA members.”

“Nonetheless, today’s order and related notices represent a significant step in the debate over how to further the comprehensive mission of universal service,” he said, adding NTCA “look[s] forward now to conversations about the implementation of this order as well as next steps on universal service in other rural areas.”