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SHLB Executive Director Calls for ‘Build America, Buy America’ Waivers

Windhausen argued that without these waivers, anchor institutions will be particularly hard hit by “Buy America” requirements.

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SHLB Executive Director John Windhausen

WASHINGTON, May 10, 2022 – The Schools, Health and Libraries Broadband Coalition on Thursday requested a waiver for the “Build America, Buy America” requirement of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

SHLB Executive Director John Windhausen appealed to U.S. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo to grant waivers in situations where the requirements would stifle applicants’ ability to utilitize funding provided by IIJA.

As an organization, SHLB primarily advocates the advancement of broadband programs for anchors institutions such as schools and libraries.

“These broadband programs are essential if we are to reach our shared goal of solving the digital divide in the next three to four years,” Windhausen said. “Unfortunately, the [Buy American]  requirements as currently drafted could make it difficult or even impossible to reach these goals.”

Windhausen claimed that as it currently stands, the “overwhelming majority” of components used in broadband infrastructure are either assembled or otherwise manufactured abroad.

“While we share the Biden Administration’s goal of increasing U.S. manufacturing, it will take time for companies to build up U.S. manufacturing capability,” Windhausen said. “In short, subjecting broadband programs to BABA could jeopardize our shared broadband deployment and adoption objectives.”

In the letter, Windhausen stated that Office of Budget Management gives Raimondo the authority to grant such waiver under Section 70914 of the legislation, which states that “the head of a Federal agency may waive the application of a Buy America preference under an infrastructure program in any case in which the head of the Federal agency finds that” such waivers would be consistent with the public interest.

Although SHLB’s request may be the first request for a waiver as of Tuesday, on March 22, ACT, The App Association, voiced similar concerns in a letter addressed to the Office of Management and Budget Director Shalanda Young.

The letter was jointly filed on behalf of ACT, the American Clean Power Association, and more than a dozen other entities.

“Given the breadth of newly affected infrastructure projects, the sheer amount of funding, the novelty of these requirements in certain sectors, and the ambitious implementation timelines, it is critical that guidance related to the IIJA’s expansion of Buy America requirements fully considers industry’s experience with supply chains and provides for the consistent application of the rules across the federal government,” ACT’s letter read. “To these ends, we strongly encourage OMB to hold a public comment period to solicit and incorporate necessary stakeholder input prior to finalizing guidance for federal agencies.”

Reporter Ben Kahn is a graduate of University of Baltimore and the National Journalism Center. His work has appeared in Washington Jewish Week and The Center Square, among other publications. He he covered almost every beat at Broadband Breakfast.

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Mayors Urged to Get Moving on State Conversations for Federal Broadband Funding

Time is running out to have cities’ voices heard at state broadband roundtables.

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Photo of Scott Woods (left) and Jase Wilson

WASHINGTON, January 18, 2023 – Representatives from a company that helps internet service providers and local governments get federal broadband money urged mayors of cities across the country Wednesday to quickly get involved in the process by actively engaging their state broadband offices or get left behind.

Scott Woods and Jase Wilson, vice president for community engagement and strategic partnerships and CEO, respectively, at Ready.net told the 91st United States Conference of Mayors in Washington that time was running out to have their voices heard at state roundtables.

Woods noted that the current version of the Federal Communications Commission’s maps are “overstated,” meaning there are inaccuracies in it. But if cities don’t have a plan or don’t come to the state broadband offices and plead their case for better connectivity, they will be left out.

The pair asked the packed conference hall at the Capitol Hilton whether they had conversations with their state broadband offices, but the vast majority did not raise their hands.

“The opportunity is now,” Wilson urged, adding the company’s Broadband.money has created a site and a broadband audit allowing mayors to get them up to speed. Broadband.money is a sponsor of Broadband Breakfast.

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration, which administers the $42.5 billion Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment program, has said that the accurate delivery of the money to connect the underconnected will be contingent on the readiness of the FCC map, which had a deadline to challenge its contents on January 13, 2023.

Each states is expected to be allocated at least $100 million by June 30, with many states receiving much, much more. After the June 30 kickoff, entities, including cities, can apply for a piece of the pie.

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Regulation, Reporting Requirements and Oversight Can Make a Difference in Grant Applications

Several documents will improve application competitiveness, said Paul Garnett of Vernonburg Group.

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Photo of Paul Garnett, CEO of the Vernonburg Group

WASHINGTON, January 13, 2023 – Regulation, reporting requirements, audits, and oversight can provide serious barriers to entities looking to receive funds from various federal broadband programs, said Vernonburg Group CEO Paul Garnett in a Thursday webinar hosted by wireless provider, Telrad.

These regulatory and financial barriers can make the difference between a successful and an unsuccessful project, he said. It is essential that applicants prepare all necessary documentation to satisfy requirements well before applying to these programs, he continued, identifying several key barriers states may face.

Irrevocable letters of credit, a guarantee for payment which cannot be cancelled during some specified time period, provide risk mitigation for program administrators and are often a key “difference maker” in making an application more competitive, Garnett said.

Its importance was highlighted as several applicants to the Federal Communications Commission’s Rural Digital Opportunity Fund won auctions for locations but were unable to qualify for funding due to not being able to raise irrevocable letters of credit, claimed Garnett.

Furthermore, he continued, audited financial statements spanning at least three years are often required for program applications. Regularly, applications will be rejected immediately when financial statements are omitted, he said.

Finally, although applicants may not anticipate a need, establishing lines of credit is an essential step to ensure that entities have the funding required for approved projects well in advance, said Garnett. He added that oftentimes, federal programs do not pay entities upfront but instead reimburse for expenses incurred.

Making Applications Simpler

The Vernonburg Group said it is working to make applications easier for entities by providing a simple visualization of basic mapping information in its free digital equity map released in December. Companies are able to easily create data visualizations and see correlation between national and local data sets, claimed its CEO.

The company works to help ISPs and state and local broadband program administrators identify locations eligible for funding by highlighting high scoring potential service areas on a heat map. It extracts availability, fixed broadband adoption, device ownership, and demographic statistics for any defined coverage area.

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CES 2023: NTIA to Address Broadband, Spectrum, and Privacy, Says Alan Davidson

Alan Davidson asserted that marginalized communities are harmed disproportionately by privacy violations.

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Photo of NTIA Adminstrator Alan Davidson

LAS VEGAS, January 7, 2023 – The National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s 2023 priorities will include the funding and facilitation of states’ broadband deployment programs, the development of a national spectrum policy, and actions to protect the privacy of marginalized groups, said Administrator Alan Davidson at the Consumer Electronics Show on Saturday.

The NTIA’s most high-profile task is to oversee the operations of the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment program, a $42.45 billion slush fund for broadband-infrastructure deployments which will be divided among the governments of states and U.S. territories. Those governments will administer final distribution of the BEAD funds in accordance with the NTIA’s guidelines.

“This is our generation’s big infrastructure moment,” Davidson said. “This is our chance to connect everybody in the country with what they need to thrive in the modern digital economy, and we are going to do it.”

Davidson reiterated his agency’s stated intention to develop a comprehensive national spectrum strategy to facilitate the various spectrum interests of government and private industry. To allocate spectrum in a manner that fulfills federal needs and stimulates the growth of innovators, largely in the sector of 5G, the NTIA – the administrator of federally used spectrum – must coordinate with the Federal Communications Commission – the administrator of other spectrum.

Calling for a national privacy law, Davidson asserted that marginalized communities are harmed disproportionately by privacy violations. He stated that the NTIA will, possibly within weeks, request public comment on “civil rights and privacy.”

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