(Editor’s note: The Broadband Report is a regular feature in WRAL TechWire.)

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) experiment on exploring how to expand robust broadband in rural America in the most cost-effective way has attracted almost 600 project bids from 181 applicants, representing nearly $885 million worth of projects.

In total, the 181 applicants proposed to serve more than 76,000 census blocks in all 50 states and Puerto Rico.

In the coming weeks, the FCC will identify the provisional winning bidders, who then will be required to submit information demonstrating their financial and technical ability to participate in the $100 million experiment.

Finalists able to meet financial, technical and other regulatory requirements could launch their experiments as early as next spring.

The FCC’s rural broadband experiments will inform the agency’s broader effort to expand rural broadband through its Connect America Fund. They will also inform the FCC’s efforts to ensure consumers everywhere can benefit from the sweeping technological advances occurring now in the communications industry, while preserving consumer protection, competition, universal service and access to emergency services during these transitions.

The $100 million available for the experiments is divided into three groups:

• $75 million to test competitive interest in building networks that are capable of delivering 100 Mbps downloads and 25 Mbps uploads (far in excess of the current Connect America Fund standard of 4/1)

• $15 million to test interest in delivering service at 10/1 speeds in “high-cost” areas

• $10 million for 10/1 service in areas that are “extremely costly” to serve

Current bidders include a diverse group of entities, including competitive providers, electric utilities, wireless internet service providers, and others.