Rural Broadband

Service provider associations are urging NTIA to take a strong role in implementing the Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment (BEAD) program. The $42.5 billion program calls for each of the 50 states to make decisions about awarding rural broadband funding but directs NTIA to oversee the program.

“NTIA should publish objective standards by which applicants for funding will be vetted and ensure that the states adhere to such measures when evaluating applicants,” said NTCA—The Rural Broadband Association, in comments filed in response to a request from NTIA for input on administering the program.

USTelecom—The Broadband Association offered similar advice.

NTIA should require the states to thoroughly vet funding applicants, USTelecom said, going on to argue that “vetting processes and questions should be uniform” among the states so that the states have an “off the shelf” way to vet applicants.

“NTIA can provide technical assistance to grantees by providing this ‘off the shelf’ vetting process,” USTelecom said.

USTelecom also urged NTIA to “adopt standards and best practices at the national level, including quality of service standards, cybersecurity and supply chain best practices, and best practices for ensuring network reliability and resiliency.”

In doing so, USTelecom said, “NTIA should leverage existing federal standards and practices.”

The Wireless Internet Service Providers Association (WISPA) also recommended a strong role for NTIA, arguing that “the opportunity we have here is simply too great for it to be undermined by lax processes which the NTIA can control from the BEAD program’s very inception.” It’s critical for NTIA to require transparency in the application and challenge processes, as well as in selection criteria and ongoing program compliance milestones, WISPA said.

More Advice for NTIA

NTCA, USTelecom and WISPA were among 557 entities that filed comments with NTIA about how to administer the BEAD program and several smaller programs, all of which were created in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA). Also known as the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL), the IIJA was signed into law late last year.

Unsurprisingly, all three provider associations urged NTIA not to favor one type of provider over another in administering the BEAD program. And all three associations urged the agency to coordinate with other government agencies to avoid duplicate funding and overbuilding.

Both NTCA and WISPA also advised the agency to prioritize unserved areas over underserved areas – a provision that is already in the IIJA, as USTelecom noted. USTelecom went on to recommend that the NTIA not establish a phased award process that would focus first on unserved and then separately on underserved areas.

Instead, USTelecom said, “a holistic approach to a deployment where bidders are encouraged to submit proposals that will simultaneously reach unserved and underserved locations will ensure the best use of funds by maximizing the number of locations served sooner than a phased approach.”

USTelecom also urged the agency to waive the Buy American requirements included in the IIJA, citing insufficient availability of equipment meeting those requirements.

In its comments, NTCA urged NTIA to establish a weighting system for awarding funding to encourage providers to deploy faster networks. Although the IIJA calls for funding recipients to deploy service at speeds of at least 100 Mbps downstream and 20 Mbps upstream, NTCA said applicants planning to deploy service supporting symmetrical 100 Mbps speeds should be weighted more heavily.

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