Collins, Portman Lead Push for Trade…

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Washington DC-U.S. Senators Susan Collins (R-ME) and Rob Portman (R-OH) led a group of 14 senators in sending a letter to Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, calling on the department to follow Congressional intent in implementing equity, access and broadband. and Deployment (BEAD) which was created by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Act.

Last November, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) was signed into law, which includes $65 billion to expand broadband access in communities nationwide. Senator Collins co-wrote the broadband section of the law and worked closely with Secretary Raimondo to negotiate the provisions. The BEAD program is based on the BRIDGE Act, co-authored by Senator Portman, to provide states with the resources and flexibility to deploy “future-proof” networks and support local initiatives to promote the accessibility, adoption and inclusion of broadband in low or non-existent communities. Internet service.

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) recently released its Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO) for the $42.45 billion BEAD program. Although some aspects of NOFO follow the legislation, there are significant concerns about many aspects of NOFO that deviate from the intent of Congress. The letter asks the NTIA to review the NOFO to ensure that the BEAD program is implemented as intended by Congress.

“There is much to applaud in NOFO, and we commend you, Assistant Secretary Davidson, and the rest of the Department of Commerce for this monumental work,” the lawmakers wrote in their letter to Secretary Raimondo. “Nevertheless, we hope that the NTIA will promptly release the NOFO revisions and clarifications to address [our] concerns to ensure that the implementation of the IIJA will be consistent with Congressional intent, enable as rapid deployment as possible, and benefit the consumer.

Senators are calling for changes in the following areas:

  1. Tariff regulations. The bipartisan Infrastructure Act includes an explicit prohibition on government actions that would otherwise interfere with broadband prices and conditions in connection with participation in the BEAD program. The NOFO, however, appears to be opening the door to rate regulation by imposing several requirements not included in the law. The senators therefore urge the NTIA to rescind or correct these portions of the NOFO and to make it clear to states that price regulation of broadband service is prohibited.

  1. Technological neutrality. The bipartisan infrastructure law states that any provider that can reliably deliver 100/20 Mbps is qualified to participate. NOFO contradicts this by explicitly stating that fiber is the only technology that can meet the definitions of a priority project. The senators urge the NTIA to clarify that technologies such as fiber, fixed wireless, cable companies and others have all demonstrated an ability to reliably serve customers at the required speed of 100/20 Mbps, an ability to do scaling the service over time and an ability to support the deployment of other advanced telecommunications services.

  1. Special preferences for certain providers. The bipartisan Infrastructure Act requires the NTIA to “distribute funds in an equitable and non-discriminatory manner” and focus evaluations of participating vendors on their substantive qualifications. Instead, the NOFO favors certain bidders for reasons unrelated to capacity or performance. For example, it requires that final proposals include a description of efforts undertaken by states to ensure the participation of “non-traditional broadband providers”. These preferences will discourage state broadband offices from selecting the provider best equipped to deliver broadband to unserved and underserved households. The senators are urging the NTIA to remove these preferences from NOFO.

  1. BEAD and participation in digital capital. The NOFO implies that states that choose not to participate in the digital equity program could be at a disadvantage in their BEAD grant applications. To provide states with greater certainty and better comply with the law, the senators urge the NTIA to revise the NOFO to clarify that a state’s participation in one of these programs will not affect participation in the other.

  1. Labor preferences. Many of the specific labor-related obligations set forth in the NOFO erect significant hurdles to ensure the rapid deployment of broadband access to all Americans. For example, the NOFO allows states to prefer or even mandate a supplier’s use of “directly employed labor,” as opposed to the use of contractors and subcontractors. Therefore, NOFO risks exacerbating the current labor shortage by making it even more difficult for participating suppliers to find and employ workers who are not only able to do the job, but who also meet these additional requirements. The senators urge the NTIA to eliminate workforce requirements and preferences that could have this deleterious effect.

  1. Middle Mile Deployment. The NOFO requires participating service providers in the BEAD program to respond to requests for interconnection outside of the planned deployment of such projects, even though the bipartisan Infrastructure Act includes the separate intermediate mile subsidy program to respond to these interconnection needs. This requirement is unnecessary and will discourage the deployment of broadband service in unserved and underserved locations, which is why the senators are urging the NTIA to remove it.

  1. Unnecessary burdens in the NTIA review process. NOFO is creating a complex nine-step, “iterative” review structure and process that could bog down state broadband offices in excessive bureaucracy and delay connecting unserved and underserved Americans as quickly as possible . For example, the planning sections on Climate Resilience and System Hardening for the Lifetime of Fiber contain multiple layers of research, reporting, and justification that typically go well beyond the purpose or purpose. the expertise of state broadband offices. The senators urge the NTIA to scrap all non-essential bidding processes and research and reporting requirements, and instead focus on rules that prioritize rapid review and deployment.

In addition to Senators Collins and Portman, the letter was signed by Senators Roger Wicker (R-MS), James Risch (R-ID), Mike Crapo (R-ID), Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Thom Tillis (R-NC), Deb Fischer (R-NE), Kevin Cramer (R-ND), Richard Burr (R-NC), Bill Cassidy (R-LA), Roy Blunt (R-MO) and Mitt Romney (R -UTAH).

Click here to read the letter.

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