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BEAD Build Timelines in Jeopardy if ‘Buy America’ Waivers Not Granted, White House Budget Office Told

Broadband Breakfast evaluated 14 submissions to the White House’s proposal on Build America, Buy America rules.



Photo from Thomas Industry Update

WASHINGTON, March 20, 2023 – Industry associations are pressing the White House’s budget office to clarify proposed language requiring a threshold for the domestic manufacturing of fiber cables and are warning that requirements that are too strict for federal funds will hinder the timeline to deploy money from the federal government’s largest broadband infrastructure fund.

The White House Office of Management and Budget published a proposal in February to provide consistency across the government with Build America, Buy America requirements, which mandate a minimum threshold of components for infrastructure builds be made in the United States. The Made in America Office under the OMB was created in January 2021 to create uniform rules and enforce compliance.

The relevant proposals, which came on the heels of President Joe Biden’s pitch for American-made components, relate to categorizing fiber optic and optical cables as “construction materials,” as opposed to a manufactured product consisting of many components; factoring into the American-made threshold the purchase costs – such as transportation and duties – of components toward the making of the final product; avoiding disqualifying materials that have no significant impact on projects; and waiving from obligations certain projects under $250,000. Under the Infrastructure, Investment and Jobs Act, infrastructure projects must comply with a rule that at least 55 percent of the cost of components in builds be made domestically.

Broadband Breakfast analyzed 14 submissions to the OMB proposals, dated last week, the majority of which are from broadband and wireless industry associations. The consensus is that change is needed, but not necessarily how the budget office lays it out. The problems with the proposals include a problematic categorization of the fiber optics cables as construction materials and a lack of a carve out for information and communications technology products that consist of many different components tied up in a global supply chain.

While all submitters recognize and commend the budget office for its goal of bringing more “American” infrastructure builds, they are also concerned the current proposal will jeopardize the timeline to complete broadband builds using the $42.5 billion from the Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment program within the four-year requirement of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration.

NTIA head Alan Davidson said last week that the bar to get BABA waivers for BEAD is “set high: Not impossibly high, but it is high.” The NTIA is expecting to allocate the money to the states by June 30.

Read the Broadband Breakfast special report: What to Know About Build America, Buy America Provisions in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. The report is available for Breakfast Club members.

Fiber optics, optical cables and construction materials

The Fiber Broadband Association has already expressed concern about the NTIA’s proposed BABA waiver for the $1 billion Enabling Middle Mile Broadband Infrastructure Program in that it categorizes certain assembled fiber components as “construction materials” as opposed to manufacturing products.

“If OMB designates fiber optic cable as a construction material and requires that all the inputs at the more granular levels be manufactured domestically as well, no domestic manufacturer will be able to provide cable for recipients of federal funding for broadband deployment,” the FBA said in a submission to the budget office.

The association is suggesting clarified language that would strip from the requirement the production of certain polymers or yarns that make up certain parts of the fiber cabling – or else “experienced broadband providers would less likely to participate in federal funding programs, which will lead to more expensive builds with infrastructure that may be less capable and reliable.”

It is requesting that if fiber cables are deemed construction materials, then the OMB should provide for a limited four-year waiver for plastics and polymer-based products.

Similarly, industry association USTelecom said in its submission that designating fiber cables and optical fibers as construction materials and not manufactured products is “inconsistent with the language” of BABA because those products are made of “many” components. “OMB’s proposed categorical change would make significantly less fiber available for BEAD deployments (absent a waiver), undermining the success of the program,” the association said.

USTelecom also agrees that the cost of acquiring components by the manufacturer be factored into the 55 percent threshold, which it said would aid in making more manufactured products BABA-compliant.

IT elements and products from allied countries as BABA-compliant

In a joint submission, the National Cable and Telecommunications Association and INCOMPAS said “there is currently no combination of network elements that could create a broadband network that meets the BABA requirements,” adding the problem is particularly problematic because of the short four-year timeframe to complete builds.

They added that providers may be discouraged from applying for BEAD funding, minding an increase in costs associated with getting American-made components in builds and supply chain issues that have disrupted builds since the pandemic began.

The IIJA provides for a waiver opportunity if it is in the public interest or if costs exceed 25 percent of the build cost. The NTCA Rural Broadband Association said “it is likely” that costs for supplies and deployment “will increase because of such transitions to onshore production even if waivers are allowed on a case-by-case basis.”

In 2009, the NTIA provided for a waiver to BABA requirements under its Broadband Technology Opportunities Program because it would require applicants to have knowledge of each component in information technology products that would make it too burdensome and deter participation in the program.

A number of submitters have relayed this information to the OMB, with the NTCA saying the 2009 guidance came during a period when U.S. production capabilities in IT products “were stronger than they are now,” alluding to the need to extend those waivers for the upcoming program.

“Many types of routers, switches, and other electronic components of broadband deployment are not available from U.S. manufacturers at all,” added the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation said in its submission. “It is no hyperbole to say that cutting off U.S. broadband providers from foreign manufacturers of these components will preclude the construction of broadband networks at all.”

ITIF said it constructed a model to estimate the additional annual costs of bringing IT manufacturing to American shores and found it would raise IT costs by between 23.7 and 29.9 percent over seven years, the latter exceeding the IIJA’s 25 percent cost threshold for a waiver opportunity. If the cost is raised, ITIF said states that will receive BEAD funding “will” have to cut back on funding for ‘digital navigators’ to help disadvantaged groups get access and learn to use the internet.

The research institute also recommended that the OMB encourage the NTIA to do an analysis to “rapidly identify components that are not available domestically and streamline the waiver process.”

The Telecommunications Industry Association said in its submission that the biggest challenge with BABA compliance will come from electronics that light up fiber service, not the fiber cable itself. “Without a waiver of or changes to BABA requirements for electronics – there will be no effective broadband deployment using federal funds, whether through Fiber to the Premise or any other technology,” it said, adding there isn’t a combination of products that meet the BABA requirements and connect Americans to the internet from end-to-end.”

The industry association added that it recommends maintaining fiber optic cable as a construction material but to treat specialty cable, such as submarine cable and some last mile cable to the home, as a manufactured product.

The TIA is also recommending the OMB include language that products procured from designated countries listed under the Federal Acquisition Regulation system, a portal from which government entities procure products, to ensure the U.S. meets its obligations under international agreements.

On the last point, the Cellular Telephone Industries Association said in its own submission that the OMB should consider a general public interest BABA waiver treating products and components from those friendly trade countries as being produced in the U.S.

The Korea Electrical Manufacturers Association also pleaded with the OMB to not apply BABA to imports of transformers and optical fiber cables from Korea – which is a designated country under FAR – because it has “little direct competition” with the American electrical industry.

The CTIA added that it is generally concerned about electronic equipment that lights up a broadband network becoming entangled in rigid made-in-America rules, it said in its submission.

“Broadband networks are reliant on complicated global supply chains where products and materials are sourced and assembled in a variety of countries,” the CTIA said. “Critical products and/or their components, for example antennas, routers, and hardware, are not manufactured domestically today.

“Because these products and components are not currently manufactured in the United States, companies cannot simply ramp up existing operations, particularly in time to meet the BEAD program’s timeline,” it added.

Ensuring products are compliant is time consuming and could delay builds

One problem some submitters identified is the additional responsibility of ensuring products from new BABA-compliant manufacturers are ready for the field.

“Each component of an ICT product must go through rigorous testing and field trials with service providers before they can be deployed,” said internet service provider Mediacom in its submission, which advocated for excluding information and communication technology products from BABA or providing “clear guidance” on BABA-compliant vendors while allowing for waivers.

“These processes can take several months to years, even when service providers are working with trusted vendors and have established relationships,” Mediacom added. “Requiring a service provider to use a new vendor to satisfy the Buy American Act requirements would result in even longer testing and deployment times.”

In citing the 2009 waivers and recommending the government grant waivers for network equipment, Nokia similarly noted that changing components for a product would require an ICT vendor to “re-assemble and re-test its final product to ensure that the new component and/or associated manufacturing process did not compromise quality or performance parameters,” which would “introduce significant delay in delivering equipment to customers” and delaying deployment.

The Finnish company, a sponsor of Broadband Breakfast, also noted its reliance on contract manufacturers overseas, with cards and chips that make up Nokia routers and modules passing through an assembly line of multiple manufacturing services.

Recommendation to provide flexibility with American threshold

The Wireless Internet Service Providers Association noted in its submission that there is too much rigidity related to product definitions surrounding fiber, glass and optical fiber and recommended that a gradual increase of the American-made threshold to allow for the flexibility needed for all manufacturing processes to occur in the country.

“It might, for example, establish as an interim requirement that 55% U.S. manufactured materials is sufficient to meet the requirement until December 31, 2025,” WISPA said. “OMB could then revisit this benchmark on an annual or biennial basis to adjust the ‘substantially all’ standard as appropriate based on the evolving state of the broadband equipment marketplace.” It added that if there isn’t such a compromise, there may be a “deluge of waiver requests” that could “easily overwhelm already over-burdened agency decisionmakers.”

The association added that it supports the OMB’s proposal to waive BABA requirements for BEAD projects of less than $250,000 to assist small broadband providers to “focus their limited resources on the primary goal of connecting more Americans to vital broadband service.”

Advanced Energy

Debt Ceiling Law Doesn’t Change Administration Priorities on Semiconductors, Advanced Energy and Broadband

With government action, America can reindustrialize itself, bolster national security, revive left-behind places and reduce carbon emissions.



WASHINGTON, June 2, 2023 — Perhaps the greatest surprise of the debt ceiling deal passed Thursday night by the Senate (and on Wednesday by the House) is that it leaves unscathed the Biden administration’s three top domestic priorities: the Inflation Reduction Act (August 2022), semiconductor promotion in the CHIPS and Science Act (July 2022), and the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (November 2021).

Together, these measures will invest more than $2 trillion of federal funds into American manufacturing, infrastructure (including broadband) and advanced energy.


As Broadband Breakfast’s Made in America Summit takes shape, we encourage you to register now to attend this important event on Tuesday, June 27, in Washington. The summit’s four sessions will explore the intersection of these vital big-picture topics:

  • (R)e-building Energy and Internet Infrastructure
  • Semiconductor Manufacturing and U.S.-Chinese Tech Race
  • Challenges to Reorienting America’s Supply Chain
  • Making Cleaner Energy and Enhancing Green Industry

The Inflation Reduction Act invests billions of dollars in clean energy projects that work to limit carbon emissions and other pollutants, including solar, wind, nuclear, clean hydrogen and more. But will its investments in clean energy founder on the lack of infrastructure deployment, or by delays in federal, state and local permitting? This session will also consider the intersection of “smart grid” infrastructure, long-haul and local, and the synchronicities between the broadband and energy economies.

• Lori Bird, U.S. Energy Program Director and Polsky Chair for Renewable Energy, World Resources Institute
• Xan Fishman, Director of Energy Policy and Carbon Management, Bipartisan Policy Center
• Quindi Franco, Assistant Director, Government Accountability Office
• Robert Glicksman, Professor of Environmental Law, George Washington University Law School
Other panelists have been invited

The CHIPS and Science Act provides $280 billion in funding to spur semiconductor research and manufacturing in the United States. Semiconductors are key components of consumer electronics, military systems and countless other applications, making a domestic supply chain critically important — particularly amid an increasingly hostile technological race with China. How successful will efforts be to bring semiconductor manufacturing to America?

• Gene Irisari, Head of Semiconductor Policy, Samsung
• Shawn Muma, Director of Supply Chain Innovation & Emerging Technologies, Digital Supply Chain Institute
• Maryam Rofougaran, CEO and Co-Founder, Movandi Corporation
• Rishi Iyengar (moderator), Global Technology Reporter, Foreign Policy
Other panelists have been invited

The Build America Buy America Act, part of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, established a domestic content procurement preference for all federally subsidized infrastructure projects. Although waivers of Buy America requirements have been proposed for certain projects — such as Middle Mile Grant Program recipients — it appears unlikely that these will be extended to initiatives such as the Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment program, despite requests and warnings from industry leaders. Although fiber-optic cable production is on the rise, significant issues remain in America’s semiconductor and electronic equipment supply. How will these issues be addressed in broadband and other infrastructure projects?

 Panelists to be announced

The Inflation Reduction Act establishes requirements for the use of American-made equipment in clean energy production. How will those requirements impact green energy development? How will the resulting projects interact with other ongoing infrastructure initiatives? What will it take for America to establish itself as a clean energy superpower?

 Panelists to be announced

Early-bird registration of $199 until Friday, June 9 + government and Broadband Breakfast Club rate.

Check back frequently to see updates on the Made in America Summit event page.


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Community Broadband

Sean Gonsalves: After Years of Talk, Cambridge is Now Taking Serious Look at Municipal Broadband

Cambridge aims to construct a citywide fiber network that passes all 52,300 residences and businesses in the city.



Photo of Harvard Square used with permission

In Cambridge, Massachusetts, digital equity advocates and city leaders have been debating the idea of building a citywide municipal fiber network for years now, mostly over whether the estimated $150 to $200 million it would cost to build the network would be worth it.

In a tech-savvy city, home to Harvard and MIT, the former city manager was resistant to a serious inquiry into municipal broadband. He retired last summer. But before he left, he relented on the broadband question – under pressure from city councilors and a local citizen group advocating for municipal broadband, Upgrade Cambridge.

With many residents weary of being held hostage to the whims and high cost of service from the monopoly provider in town (Comcast), which currently controls 80 percent of the city’s market, in 2021 the city hired the well-regarded Maryland-based consulting firm CTC Technology & Energy to conduct a thorough feasibility study. Now, with a new supportive city manager in office, city leaders have agreed to continue to investigate the options laid out in the recently published study.

‘Significant public support’ even if it requires tax money

The study found that for Cambridge to construct a “financially sustainable” citywide fiber network that passes all 52,300 residences and businesses in the city, “a significant public contribution would be required.”

“In a base-case scenario that applies conservative construction cost assumptions and reasonable revenue projections,” the study says, “the network could require an upfront public capital contribution of $150 million.”

While some city leaders initially balked at the price tag, a market survey conducted by CTC, found “significant public support for the City taking steps to bring about a new FTTP service, even if a public contribution is required.”

“Eighty-seven percent of respondents agreed that Cambridge needs an additional Internet service provider. When asked if they support City facilitation even if it required a contribution, two-thirds of respondents strongly agreed (40 percent) or agreed (26 percent) the City should facilitate building a fiber broadband network that allows for high-speed service and competition, even if this requires a tax subsidy.”

And when asked if they would be willing to purchase services from a new provider, 58 percent of survey respondents who now get service from Comcast said they would be “very or extremely likely” to subscribe to new Internet service.

Early on, the study seeks to disabuse councilors of the notion that municipal broadband means the city must go it alone and “be the only entity that builds, operates, maintains, and directly markets and offers retail services.”

The city has options, which may involve public-private partnerships. In fact, the study says, “there exists a strong likelihood of private interest in a partnership with the City on a broadband network.”

From there, the study lays out four models the city could pursue and includes a detailed analysis of the risks and trade-offs associated with each: a network fully owned and operated by the city; one where the city builds and owns the infrastructure and then contracts with a private ISP to offer retail service; an open access network in which the city builds and owns the infrastructure and then leases the network to multiple private providers; or one that is largely funded and operated by a private provider.

Cambridge fiber backbone rendering

Cost assumptions and architecture

The construction cost estimates were based on several assumptions, namely that the network would consist of “62 percent aerial construction using existing utility poles and 38 percent underground construction” with an estimated construction timeline of about five years.

Additionally, the cost estimate assumes a 40 percent take-rate that would generate $70 per month, per user “with prices increasing by 3 percent per year.”

As for network architecture, the study advises the city seek to build a network “based on a Gigabit Passive Optical Network (GPON) architecture, which is the most commonly provisioned fiber-to-the-premises service” – the same kind of architecture used by the AT&T, Verizon Fios and Google Fiber, which could be “easily leveraged by triple-play carriers for voice, video, and data services.”

All told, the study envisions deploying 130 miles of fiber both aerially and underground that “will vary between 12- and 288-count based on the projected need in the area,” with a backbone that ranges from 144- to 288-count cables.

City councilors debate familiar questions, skepticism recedes

When CTC presented the results of the feasibility study in March, it proved to be a real eye-opener for one skeptical City Councilor.

As reported by Cambridge DayCouncilor Burhan Azeem said, “it doesn’t sound like it would be as big of a construction project as I was initially worried about.”

“I was a little bit skeptical of municipal broadband because of the cost of $200 million and all this time and energy and effort. And the benefits weren’t clear to me. This conversation has been really helpful in convincing me otherwise.”

When councilors asked about whether it was worth the investment in light of other challenges the city faced such as housing, CTC President Joanne Hovis laid out the variety of community benefits such networks provide in terms of improving economic vitality and quality-of-life – including the ability “to deliver services that we can’t imagine right now.”

It led Councilor Quinton Zondervan to observe that robust high-speed Internet infrastructure is as vital as roads, further noting: “If we went back in time 100 years, we would be debating whether to pave the roads in Cambridge. In the case of broadband, it’s creating potential new business opportunities, learning opportunities and economic opportunities for our residents.”

What’s next?

Should City Councilors decide to move forward, the study provides a “roadmap” for next steps, which includes meeting with and researching potential partners; selecting a business model; issuing an RFI; preparing and launching a procurement process; evaluating bids and selecting partner(s); conducting final negotiations; and awarding a contract.

Cambridge Next Steps timeline

As for CTC’s recommendation on which business model to pursue, the study says that should the city decide to move forward, CTC recommended the city pursue either building an open-access dark fiber network and lease it to multiple private providers, or enter into a public-private partnership where the private provider shoulders most of the financial risks while allowing the city to retain “long-term ownership” of the network.

Roy Russell, founding member of Upgrade Cambridge, told ILSR he was pleased with the study and the progress city leaders seem to be making to explore how they can bring more reliable and affordable competition to the market.

“One reason municipal broadband runs into trouble, in the few that have had problems, is because they either underestimated the costs or overestimated the revenue,” Russell said. “That’s why I think this study is great because it’s a conservative analysis with plenty of contingencies built in.”

Should the city be successful in building a citywide fiber network, “even for the people who wouldn’t switch (to a new provider), they still benefit greatly from competitive pressure – better service, cheaper rates. Now, there’s no way for the city to monetize that. But, it benefits everyone. So the city should see that, and not look at this as a business proposition in terms of: how are we going to make money off of this,” Russell said.

“The city should see this as infrastructure investment the same way we invest in schools, roads, and sewers. It’s about providing services. I mean, we’ve spent somewhere around $500 million renovating our schools. And the schools are great. So I see this (construction cost) as the price to get competition in the city. The phrase ‘Feasibility Study’ implies: can we do this? There isn’t any question about the technical feasibility. That’s well known. It’s entirely feasible. So the question is: what is the cost and how much value does it brings the city?”

Now that the study has been completed, Russell says his group has a simple ask – that city leaders “proceed in an open and deliberate manner to better understand the alternatives and the decisions that need to be made. We believe if they look at the value it brings, the answer will be to definitely move ahead.”

This article originally appeared on the Institute for Local Self Reliance’s Community Broadband Networks project on May 30, 2023, and is reprinted with permission.

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National League of Cities Announces Bootcamps to Support Applicants to Federal Infrastructure Programs

The program instructs applicants on best practices to write winning grant applications.



Image by PeopleReady

WASHINGTON, June 1, 2023 – Advocacy group National League of Cities is sponsoring a nationwide program designed to advise cities and towns on how to access federal infrastructure funding. 

The Local Infrastructure Hub program is hosting a grant application bootcamp aimed at assisting small- and mid-sized cities and towns in their grant applications. The bootcamp series will begin in June and will focus on the programs funded through the $65 billion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and the Inflation Reduction Act.  

The camp comes ahead of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s allocation by June 30 of the $42.5 billion from its Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment program.

The broadband opportunities bootcamp will introduce cities to the entire ecosystem of federal broadband opportunities and educate them on ways they can engage with the private sector, the NLC said. It will guide them through the process of applying to the Broadband Equity Access and Deployment program, it added. 

Participants will be guided through the process of creating an asset map for their community, executing a community engagement strategy, utilizing data to understand problems, aligning applications with broader federal priorities, and writing winning applications through provided templates.  

Mayors and municipal staff across a wide range of specialties are eligible to participate. Participants will have access to subject-matter experts and individualized coaching sessions. The program will connect applicants with their peers applying to the same programs, the NLC said. 

The free bootcamps will last 3 to 4 months and will require several hours of participation each week per team member. Many city leaders tout the program as being highly successful and influential in their grant application process.  

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