President Joe Biden made clear in his State of the Union address last month that as the US spends billions of dollars on new broadband connections, “we’re going to buy American.”
But that aspiration is easier said than done. While there seems to be enough domestic fiber optic cable to connect communities, the electronic components such as routers that transform glass strands into data highways are made mainly in other countries.
Cable providers, chip makers and wireless carriers are pleading for relief from the requirement to “buy American,” saying they can’t build new networks without foreign electronics. Otherwise the broadband buildup that Biden has set as a priority will be delayed by years as domestic sources are developed.
But it seems like there’s a way around it…
Administration officials have offered mixed signals on the possibility of issuing waivers for those products. …
Still, the agency is set to issue a waiver for another broadband subsidy, the $1 billion Middle Mile Grant Program that helps fund lines between local networks, said a Commerce Department official briefed on the matter who spoke on condition of not being named because the action isn’t final. The waiver is justified, the agency earlier noted, since the fiber optic cable is assembled in Mexico, while about two-thirds of the value in network devices is derived from components sourced from Asia.
Companies need to be assured they will get permission to buy foreign electronics before they’ll break ground to lay new broadband lines, said Dave Stehlin, chief executive officer of the Telecommunications Industry Association. Members of the trade group include chipmakers Cisco Systems Inc. and Qualcomm Inc., Nokia Oyj and Ericsson AB.
“A waiver has to be in place by then,” Stehlin said in an interview. “No service provider’s is going to dig a hole, lay a fiber cable, and hope and pray as they wait for the electronics. They’re going to wait until they have everything lined up. So the longer we wait, the longer it is before these unserved and underserved people actually have broadband.”
We’ll see how this plays out and who has access to the waivers.