The RDOF is the latest iteration of the FCC’s universal service fund (USF), more recently referred to as the Connect America Fund (CAF). This program was developed decades ago to fund the construction and operation of telecommunications networks, and later, broadband networks. The goal of the program was to ensure comparable telecommunications services at affordable costs to rural Americans, to be on par with their urban counterparts. The initial focus of the USF was telephone service, but it has shifted focus in recent years to broadband service through the CAF.
The RDOF is an extension of the CAF and will provide $20.4 billion in funding over a ten-year period to support broadband networks in rural communities across the country. The funding roots of RDOF come from traditional high-cost universal service funding previously earmarked for territories served by large “price cap” telecom carriers such as CenturyLink, Frontier, AT&T, and Verizon. Historically, the FCC provided this funding directly to these legacy telecom carriers to support broadband service in the rural communities served by them. But RDOF changed this process significantly.