Thursday, April 20, 2023

Senator Thune Spearheads Call to Revise BEAD Program Rules

In a letter released earlier today, a group of eleven Republican Senators, led by John Thune (SD), ranking member of the Senate Commerce Committee's Subcommittee on Communications, Media, and Broadband, and including Senate Commerce Committee ranking member Senator Ted Cruz (TX), urged National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) head Alan Davidson to bring in line with congressional intent the $42.45 billion Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) Program's rules.

Specifically, the letter pressed Assistant Secretary Davidson to remove several provisions from the May 2022 Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO) that "divert resources away from bringing broadband service to rural America and are inconsistent with NTIA's statutory authority in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA)."

The letter targets the following extraneous and counterproductive policy priorities not found within the IIJA yet championed by the NOFO:

  • Labor requirements inappropriately designed "to achieve targeted social outcomes";
  • A "misguided" bias in favor of government-owned networks;
  • A fiber-focused failure to heed "Congress' technology neutral stance in the IIJA" with regard to other viable broadband distribution platforms;
  • Affordability and other requirements inconsistent with specific language in the IIJA prohibiting NTIA from '"regulat[ing] the rates charged for broadband service";
  • Climate change mandates "not envisioned by Congress" that raise costs; and
  • "Buy American" mandates that threaten untimely delays absent "a consistent waiver process."

Senator Thune stepped up his broadband-funding oversight efforts late last year with the release of a letter soliciting input on a wide range of topics, including many of those listed above.

In "Senator Thune's New Broadband Oversight Initiative," a December 2022 post to the FSF Blog, Free State Foundation President Randolph May welcomed the arrival of Senator Thune's oversight letter and wrote that he "couldn't agree more on the need for congressional oversight of the various programs providing funds for broadband."

Mr. May submitted a thorough response, referencing dozens of related FSF scholarly papers, on January 6, 2023.

In prerecorded remarks addressing the FSF Fifteenth Annual Policy Conference on March 28, 2023, Senator Thune emphasized the importance of congressional oversight and highlighted the Free State Foundation's substantive contributions to those efforts:

On rural broadband oversight, as many of you know, Congress has allocated an unprecedented amount of money in federal broadband investments. And there are more than 130 federal broadband programs that are administered by 15 federal agencies. That spiderweb of bureaucracy is exactly why I began an effort last year to ensure there is stringent oversight of how these taxpayer funds are being spent. And I greatly appreciate the Free State Foundation taking the time to provide thoughtful responses to my oversight request.

The other signatories to the letter to NTIA Administrator Davidson are Senators Ted Cruz (TX), Marsha Blackburn (TN), Ted Budd (NC), Shelley Moore Capito (WV), Deb Fischer (NE), Eric Schmitt (MO), Dan Sullivan (AK), J.D. Vance (OH), Todd Young (IN), and Roger Wicker (MS).