The NTIA should use a technology-neutral approach in guidelines for broadband funding programs established in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), said the Wireless Internet Service Providers Association (WISPA) in a letter sent this week to the chairmen of the House committee on energy and commerce and the House subcommittee on communications and technology.
The chairmen previously sent a letter to NTIA arguing that the success of the IIJA broadband programs will require an emphasis on affordability, digital inclusion, high-capacity networks, competition and community engagement.”
“We could not agree more,” wrote WISPA Chairman Todd Harpest in the letter to the House members.
The IIJA includes $65 billion for broadband, with the majority — $42.5 billion – going toward the BEAD program to support broadband deployments in unserved and underserved areas.
It’s an unprecedented level of funding for broadband that many stakeholders see as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to get broadband to all Americans. For that reason, some stakeholder groups, including NTCA—The Rural Broadband Association and the Fiber Broadband Association, have argued that NTIA should prioritize fiber broadband projects, arguing that fiber is the most future-proof technology and will not have to be replaced after several years.
The WISPA letter offers an alternative view.
“Although the IIJA support is generous, prioritizing fiber transmission would mean that large swaths of America would continue to remain unserved,” the letter argues. “Such an outcome would be inequitable and run counter to the intent of the IIJA.”
It’s worth noting that, while FBA advocates prioritizing fiber projects in the BEAD program, the association has noted that fixed wireless may make sense in some cases and paves the way for future fiber-to-the-premises projects by getting fiber closer to end users. In that regard, it is preferable to satellite broadband, which has a limited lifespan, Gary Bolton, CEO of the FBA, has argued.
WISPA Technology-Neutral Arguments
The WISPA letter offers a range of arguments in favor of fixed wireless technology, including:
- Fixed wireless was the initial backbone of MCI’s architecture decades ago, which ultimately resulted in the disruption of the long-distance marketplace that directly benefited American consumers.
- Operators offering fixed wireless access (FWA) captured about 38% of all new broadband subscriptions in the U.S. in the fourth quarter of 2021.
- As consumer demand for faster speeds has increased, FWA providers have maintained pace through access to additional spectrum for commercial use, equipment evolution and hybrid networks. (The latter combine FWA and fiber).
- Gigabit speed FWA is now widely available through several technologies and from multiple vendors.
One area that WISPA, FBA and NTCA agree on: NTIA should prioritize unserved areas (defined in the IIJA as those lacking 25/3 Mbps service) over underserved areas (defined as those lacking 100/20 Mbps service.)
WISPA doesn’t ask the Congressional member recipients of the association’s letter for anything specific, but the intent clearly seems to be to influence how NTIA shapes the rules for the BEAD program. Those rules are due next month in the form of a notice of funding opportunity (NOFO).
NTIA Director Alan Davidson offered a few hints about the agency’s thinking on the NOFO at an event organized by media outlet Broadband.Money yesterday.
He stated that NTIA’s goal is to make 100/20 Mbps service available to everyone in the U.S.