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The NTIA should prioritize funding for fiber broadband in rules for the Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment (BEAD) program, said NTCA—The Rural Broadband Association and the Fiber Broadband Association (FBA) in a letter to Alan Davidson, head of NTIA, which will be administering the BEAD program in conjunction with individual states.

Noting that millions of households lack quality broadband, NTCA and FBA argue that the “mission of the BEAD program is to fix that problem, and it cannot be done by adopting half-measures that might only lead to this problem recurring in only a few years’ time.”

Fiber deployments could be prioritized by using a weighting system favoring the technology, NTCA and FBA said.

The BEAD program, created in the infrastructure act signed into law late last year, has a budget of $42.5 billion to cover some of the costs of bringing broadband to unserved and underserved rural areas. Funding decisions are to be made by the states at the direction of NTIA.

NTIA is expected to issue a notice of funding opportunity (NOFO) for the BEAD program within the next several weeks. Recommendations made by NTCA and FBA in the letter aim to influence the guidelines established in the NOFO.

NTCA and FBA recommendations for the BEAD program include:

  • The program should fund all unserved locations first before approving any funding for underserved locations
  • The program should not favor a certain type of provider, a comment apparently aimed at preventing NTIA from prioritizing projects involving public entities
  • Preference should be given to service providers that commit to obtaining a substantial take rate within a reasonable time after service is launched and providers should be required to reach out in their communities to “assist in-need consumers in understanding the value of and uses for broadband service – and in helping them subscribe.”
  • Competent providers and platforms with proven track records should be selected

The latter comment appears directed toward low earth orbit (LEO) satellite broadband such as SpaceX Starlink. SpaceX tentatively was awarded close to a billion dollars in the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund program, but the funding has not yet been released to the company.

FBA President and CEO Gary Bolton has been particularly vocal in expressing concerns that Starlink service is unproven and has a limited lifespan and has argued that it should not receive government funding.

NTCA was one of several provider associations that previously urged NTIA to take a strong role in administering the BEAD program.

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