The Benton Institute for Broadband & Society has compiled info on Senator Thune’s recommended changes to BEAD program’s NOFA…
Sen. John Thune (R-SD) led 10 colleagues in a letter to National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) Assistant Secretary Alan Davidson expressing concerns with the $42.45 billion Broadband, Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) program’s Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO). As part of his nationwide broadband oversight effort to hold agencies accountable and ensure funding is being used in the most efficient way possible, Sen Thune urged NTIA to revise or issue a new NOFO for the BEAD program in order to reach, and more efficiently connect, truly unserved Americans. They asked NTIA to address the following issues:
- Labor Requirements: Under the Information Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), Congress directed NTIA to give priority to eligible broadband providers that have a “demonstrated record of and plans to be in compliance with Federal labor and employment laws.” The NOFO goes far beyond this statutory objective, however, by actively discriminating against workers in ways that could deny communities – particularly those in more rural areas – access to reliable broadband services.
- Encouragement of Government-Owned Networks: The NOFO gives favorable treatment to government-owned networks over private investment. Specifically, the NOFO requires states to include “an explanation for awards to traditional broadband providers when one or more non-traditional providers submitted competing proposals.” This misguided incentive, which was not included in the IIJA, could divert program dollars to less capable providers – a real risk given municipal broadband’s track record of costly failure.
- Tech-Neutrality: The NOFO generally prohibits non-fiber projects from receiving BEAD funding despite Congress’ technology neutral stance in the IIJA, which permitted all technologies, including wireless service, to be eligible for funding as long as they meet the IIJA’s network requirements. Further, under the NOFO’s rules, a state that does not use fiber must submit an overly complex and burdensome waiver request, inconsistent with Congress’ intent. States, working with the broadband providers that serve their communities, should not be precluded from awarding sub-grants to alternative technologies, if doing so is the right solution for their communities. In the absence of such flexibility, NTIA will fail in its mission to efficiently connect all Americans.
- Mandates for Affordability and Rate Regulation: The IIJA does not allow NTIA “to regulate the rates charged for broadband service.” Contrary to Congress’ intent, the NOFO requires states to “ensure that high-quality broadband services are available to all middle-class families in the BEAD-funded network’s service area at reasonable prices.” This provision falsely suggests that states and NTIA have the authority to regulate rates for broadband service and should be removed from BEAD rules. Additionally, the NOFO introduces an additional form of rate regulation by giving preference to providers that agree to interconnect with their competitors at wholesale rates. NTIA should make it clear that states do not have the authority to regulate rates, and NTIA should refrain from introducing any new rules relating to rate regulation or wholesale access requirements that are inconsistent with its direction from Congress.
- Climate Change Mandates: The NOFO makes several references to and includes a policy that was not included in the IIJA relating to climate change. The NOFO states “eligible entities must account not only for current [climate-related] risks but also for how the frequency, severity, and nature of these extreme events may plausibly evolve as our climate continues to change over the coming decades.” This extraneous requirement was not envisioned by Congress and diverts resources away from bringing broadband connectivity to unserved Americans. The NOFO is not the place for NTIA to be pushing the Biden administration’s unrealistic environmental agenda onto the American public, and it therefore should be removed.
- Supply-Chain Issues: The IIJA rightfully recognizes the importance of purchasing broadband products and supplies from American workers and businesses. At the same time, the IIJA provides agencies the ability to waive such a requirement should it satisfy a number of strict thresholds. If NTIA wants to ensure broadband projects are built in a timely manner, NTIA should work alongside stakeholders to develop a consistent waiver process for certain components of a broadband network.