Buy America
Industry Insight Series

This is the first article in a 3-part series on navigating the Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment Program (“BEAD”) funding process and requirements. This piece explains the waiver issued in August by the Department of Commerce and National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA). Subsequent pieces focusing on what applicants need to know for grant applications and how all of this will impact the procurement process will be published in the coming weeks.

Generally, Build America Buy America (“Buy America”) is a federal requirement that applies to federal financial assistance programs including BEAD. Buy America has 2 criteria: (1) the item is manufactured in the United States and (2) 55% of the components (by cost) are sourced directly from the United States. Any funds granted from BEAD must be used to purchase products that meet the Buy America criteria. Meeting the Buy America mandate is a singular threshold requirement for the procurement of products and materials for the BEAD Program.

On August 22, the Department of Commerce and the NTIA issued the long-awaited Proposed Limited General Applicability Nonavailability Waiver (“Waiver”) of the Buy America Domestic Content Procurement Preference as Applied to Recipients of Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment Program.

In rolling out the Waiver at Fiber Connect, Will Arbuckle, Senior Policy Advisor at the U.S. Department of Commerce, noted that Commerce and NTIA held over 250 meetings with industry and others on how to meet the Buy America mandate for BEAD. It’s clear that significant time and effort were taken to create a Waiver that recognizes the supply chain and manufacturing challenges within the industry and provides a reasonable roadmap for compliance for those products that do not fall under a Waiver category.

So, what does the Waiver do? The purpose of the Waiver is for NTIA to grant exceptions to the Buy America laws for certain products so that providers and manufacturers do not need to individually apply for waivers with a few, very limited exceptions. Manufacturers either meet the requirements or they do not. If a company does not meet the requirements for certain products, those products are not eligible to be sold into the BEAD program. The Waiver does not provide a process for manufacturers or others to seek exceptions outside of what is included in the Waiver.

The Waiver does the following key things:  

  • Fully waives both criteria of the Buy America requirement for all broadband electronics EXCEPT OLTs, OLT line cards, OLT optics modules and ONTs 
  • Waives the 55% criteria for OLTs, OLT line cards, OLT optics modules and ONTs, but requires these products to be manufactured in the U.S. and meet manufacturing process definitions detailed in the Proposed Waiver 
  • Waives the 55% criteria for enclosures but requires these products to be manufactured in the U.S. and meet manufacturing process criterion
  • Requires other low-cost, non-electronics equipment to be sourced and manufactured in the U.S.  
  • Establishes a process for manufacturers to voluntarily self-certify Buy America compliance with NTIA for products that are required to be manufactured in the U.S.  
  • Prohibits the purchase of products manufactured in China for the BEAD Program
  • Requires reporting of products that are purchased from foreign sources
  • Provides a waiver for a term of 5 years from the date of the finalized Waiver

The period for submitting comments to NTIA closed on September 21 and, as of now, we do not know when to expect the final Waiver.

To learn more about US Government Funding Opportunities visit: US Government Broadband Funding Opportunities | Nokia

This series features insight into important broadband industry issues from industry leaders.

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