Broadband Funding Explained: What the Administration Did Right and Missed in NTIA’s BEAD Program

The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) has provided substantial investment in our nation’s communications infrastructure, primarily through the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) program. BEAD est un programme de 42,45 milliards de dollars qui sera distribué aux États et territoires pour financer principalement des projets de déploiement du haut débit. These investments are crucial to help connect all Americans and guarantee that non -served populations can take advantage of the advantages of a digital economy from the 21st century.

Complete me: On May 13, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) released the notice of funding opportunity (NOFO) for the BEAD program, which outlines program requirements and policies. While NOFO contains several positive aspects, it also contains many concerning provisions that undermine the bipartisan spirit of the IIJA and will ultimately make it harder for all Americans to connect and bridge the digital divide.

What the NTIA understood: The NTIA funding announcement contains several positive aspects, which will help ensure the ultimate success of the program. Some of them include:

  • Focuses on unserved areas first: NOFO orders eligible entities to certify in their final proposal that the non -served and unprerared areas will be processed first before using funding for other purposes.
  • Requires strong subgram qualifications: NOFO addresses a key concern raised by the U.S. House that subrecipients must demonstrate their qualifications to build and maintain broadband networks to ensure that taxpayer funds are spent responsibly. Some of these qualifications include strong financial, managerial, operational and technical capabilities.
  • Enables effective stakeholder engagement: Partnerships and stakeholder engagement will be crucial to understanding local needs. The NOFO includes useful provisions such as requiring public comment periods and broader stakeholder engagement. Similarly, it allows transparency by encouraging eligible entities to publicly publish proposals before submissions, to create dedicated websites, among other suggestions.
  • Helps with broadband authorization costs: NOFO is helping address broadband licensing issues by encouraging eligible entities to reduce the cost of deployment through licensing streamlining and regulatory relief and by allowing funds to be used to focus on authorization costs.

What the NOFO got wrong: Despite the many positive aspects, the funding advisory contains many problematic provisions and mandates, which will hinder the IIJA’s goal of connecting all Americans while running counter to the law’s bipartisan approach.

  • Promotes government-owned networks: Despite the IIJA’s neutrality with respect to provider type, the advisory undermines that neutrality to promote government-owned networks by imposing burdensome requirements on eligible entities and pressuring states to waive to laws that impose restrictions on public sector broadband providers, even if they did before the enactment of the IIJA.
  • Picks technology winners and losers: The IIJA maintains technological neutrality for the BEAD program. NOFO takes the opposite approach and prioritizes fiber over other solutions and completely excludes certain types of technology, such as satellite and fixed wireless (using exclusively unlicensed spectrum).
  • Encourages a patchwork of net neutrality rules: NOFO requires that all eligible entities ensure that sub-brewed not impose “unjust or unreasonable network management practices” similar to net neutrality requirements. This requirement is not clear and exacerbates the challenge that broadband practices can be regulated differently depending on states and territories, creating a mosaic of laws.
  • Ill-defined Middle Class Affordability Program: The NOFO requires eligible entities to create a middle-class accessibility program, which may take the form of low-cost plans, consumer subsidies, regulations to promote structural competition, or other means. This ill-defined affordability agenda for the middle class opens the door to additional state-level intervention in the broadband market, which could include solutions such as rate regulation.
  • Unnecessary union preferences: NOFO is lobbying eligible entities and subrecipients to align with the administration’s union-friendly policies. Such policies have nothing to do with connecting all Americans and everything to do with promoting independent union priorities on the misclassification of workers, preferences against non-union contractors, prevailing wage demands and project work agreements.

And after?

  • Implementation schedule: The IIJA and NOFO require states and territories to submit a letter of intent to the NTIA by July 18, 2022, which will be followed by the option to request planning funds to develop an initial proposal and a five-year action plan, which is due by August 15, 2022.
  • Updated FCC cards: Most of the funds in the Bead program will be distributed on the updated cards base that will provide more precise details on those who do not have access to broadband. The FCC estimates that these maps will be finalized by late fall 2022.

The bottom line: Despite the positive aspects of NOFO, it is disappointing that the NTIA has chosen to continue several partisan priorities rather than implementing the iija in accordance with the intention of the Congress. The US Chamber of Commerce believes that the NTIA must address these issues immediately to ensure the success of the BEAD program.

About the authors

Matt Furlow

Policy Director, C_TEC

Matt Furlow, Policy Director, C_TEC

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