As the coronavirus pandemic has swept the country, the need for a fast internet connection has become critical to our ability to work, learn, and receive health care. Unfortunately, and despite significant ongoing efforts, millions of Americans are still without adequate service to engage in these activities. Companies like ours play an important role in bridging this digital divide. Charter provided free broadband to over 400,000 teachers, students, and their families, as well as small businesses, over the last several months, and we also have been investing in and expanding our network to reach more of the millions of homes and businesses without broadband. In the past five years, we have invested nearly $40 billion in technology and infrastructure, and in just the last two years, we built out our network to more than 1.5 million unserved or underserved homes and businesses, 30% of which was in rural areas.
We will continue to build out our network to reach more unserved, including rural, areas. We also recently announced that we intend to apply to participate in the FCC’s Rural Digital Opportunity Fund auction. If we are successful in the auction, the result could be an expedited, multi-billion-dollar build-out of Charter’s broadband network that would reach multi-millions of families and communities still needing high-speed broadband.
The impact of our efforts to build in unserved areas will depend on many factors that can increase costs and delay broadband infrastructure build out, including the applicability of eligible telecommunications carrier requirements, which can result in reduced participation in subsidy programs and may cause limited subsidy funds to be spent on regulatory compliance instead of on building out to more homes and businesses. Another is the complicated process for obtaining permission to attach our broadband cables to utility poles in rural areas. With fewer homes and businesses in these areas, broadband providers need to access multiple poles per home, as opposed to multiple homes per pole in urban settings. As a result, pole applications, pole replacement rules, pole rental fees and the complaint resolution process are all factors that can have a significant impact on build-out costs, timing, and the economic viability of a project.
Charter is committed to helping to close the digital divide by continuing to deliver high-quality products and services to more people in more places. Our ongoing private investment will continue to include expansion into lower-density and rural communities. With reasonable policy changes to address costs and delays like those outlined above, the reach and impact of scarce government dollars will go further, resulting in more broadband for more Americans, faster.