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Industry Optimistic About Calls for a Targeted ‘Buy America’ Waiver Ahead of Broadband Awards

Strict domestic manufacturing requirements may hinder the success of the $42.5 billion BEAD Program.



WASHINGTON, May 19, 2023 — With the announcement of state funding allocation decisions from the $42.5 billion Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment Program expected by the end of June, industry experts are reiterating calls for certain domestic production requirements to be waived, pointing to significant supply chain challenges.

The goals of the Build America, Buy America Act are admirable, but they are not realistic within the limited time frame of the BEAD Program, argued John Windhausen, executive director of the SHLB Coalition, at a Broadband Breakfast live online event on Wednesday

“While there seems to be enough domestic fiber optic cable to connect communities, the electronic components such as the routers, switches and semiconductors that transform those glass strands into data highways are made mainly in other countries,” Windhausen said.

Under the Buy America requirements, all manufactured products used in federally funded projects must be domestically produced. In addition, the cost of components that are mined, produced or manufactured in the U.S. must make up more than 55 percent of the total cost of the product’s components.

“It’s a really, really high bar for a lot of these products, which are sourced from inputs that come from all over the world — it’s fundamentally a global industry,” said Patrick Lozada, director of global policy for the Telecommunications Industry Association.

The NTIA in April finalized an exemption to certain domestic manufacturing requirements for the $1 billion Middle Mile Grant Program, saying that “although there are public and private efforts underway to increase manufacturing capacity… industry will not be able to address shortages of the manufactured products and construction materials required for middle mile network deployment within the timeframes required.”

The waiver noted that just 12 percent of global semiconductor production occurs in the U.S., with more than 70 percent of production taking place in Asia. New semiconductor fabrication facilities in the U.S. will take at least three years to build, according to industry estimates.

This problem is also relevant to the BEAD Program, said Pam Arluk, vice president and associate general counsel for NCTA – The Internet & Television Association.

“The estimates are that it would take at least, at a minimum, three to five years to bring a semiconductor chip plant to the U.S.,” Arluk explained. “And even though the BEAD program is going to be over several years, that’s still just not enough time.”

Learn more about the future of Buy America requirements and the race to increase semiconductor production at Broadband Breakfast’s Made in America Summit on June 27.

Several trade groups and service providers have urged the NTIA to issue a similar waiver for the BEAD Program, claiming that projects will encounter the same procurement problems. In fact, Windhausen argued, the justification for waiving domestic manufacturing rules “applies equally well, if not more so” to BEAD because of the program’s focus on last mile deployment.

“We’re trying to build broadband to those areas that are the highest cost, that are the hardest to reach, and if anything, we want to be encouraging more organizations to apply for these BEAD funds,” he said. “But a strict adherence to the Buy America provisions would discourage organizations from applying for that funding… It’s kind of counterproductive to the whole goal.”

As federal agencies navigate the conflicting priorities of encouraging domestic manufacturing and closing the digital divide, Lozada suggested that one potential solution is to rely on stable allies such as Mexico and Canada.

Windhausen also highlighted efforts such as the CHIPS and Science Act, which he said presented “a better and more targeted way to increase our domestic production capabilities than imposing a Build America Buy America requirement on the buildout of these new broadband networks in the short run.”

Our Broadband Breakfast Live Online events take place on Wednesday at 12 Noon ET. Watch the event on Broadband Breakfast, or REGISTER HERE to join the conversation.

Wednesday, May 17, 2023, 12 Noon ET – The Ongoing Impact of Buy America Rules

The Biden administration’s historic investments in semiconductor manufacturing, green energy and broadband infrastructure have the potential to dramatically restructure the American industrial base in the coming years. But some industry leaders have warned that the domestic content procurement preferences for all federally subsidized infrastructure projects — as required by the Build America Buy America Act of 2021 — could lead to higher prices and significant supply chain problems. What impact have Buy America rules had so far, and how will they shape the future of U.S. infrastructure development?

This Broadband Breakfast Live Online session will preview the upcoming Made in America Summit, taking place on Tuesday, June 27 in Washington.


  • John Windhausen, Executive Director, SHLB Coalition
  • Pam Arluk, Vice President and Associate General Counsel, NCTA – The Internet & Television Association
  • Patrick Lozada, Director of Global Policy, Telecommunications Industry Association
  • Drew Clark (moderator), Editor and Publisher, Broadband Breakfast

John Windhausen Jr. founded the SHLB Coalition in 2009 with the support of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. As executive director, he spearheads SHLB’s membership growth and shapes its broadband policy recommendations. Previously, he served as president of the Association for Local Telecommunications Services, spent nine years on Capitol Hill, and started his career as a staff attorney at the FCC. In 2012, John was named the Community Broadband Hero of the Year by the National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors.

Pam Arluk is vice president and associate general counsel of NCTA, in which she represents the cable industry on a large range of matters before the FCC and NTIA related to voice and broadband issues. Prior to joining NCTA, Arluk was chief of the Competition Policy Division at the FCC’s Wireline Competition Bureau, which is the division responsible for the non-pricing policy rules involving wireline voice and broadband services, including infrastructure, open internet requirements, privacy, U.S. numbering policy, domestic transfers of control and discontinuance of service. Arluk graduated from Miami University and William & Mary Law School.

Patrick Lozada is the director of global policy at the Telecommunications Industry Association, the U.S.-based industry association representing the manufacturers and suppliers of telecommunications equipment and services. In this role, Patrick leads TIA’s work on issues related to trade, supply chains, and standardization policy. Prior to this role, Patrick was a director in the China Practice of the Albright Stonebridge Group and spent eight years in Asia, primarily advising U.S. firms on trade and policy issues.

Drew Clark (moderator) is CEO of Breakfast Media LLC. He has led the Broadband Breakfast community since 2008. An early proponent of better broadband, better lives, he initially founded the Broadband Census crowdsourcing campaign for broadband data. As Editor and Publisher, Clark presides over the leading media company advocating for higher-capacity internet everywhere through topical, timely and intelligent coverage. Clark also served as head of the Partnership for a Connected Illinois, a state broadband initiative.

Photo by Joanne Dale/Adobe Stock used with permission

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As with all Broadband Breakfast Live Online events, the FREE webcasts will take place at 12 Noon ET on Wednesday.

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Reporter Em McPhie studied communication design and writing at Washington University in St. Louis, where she was a managing editor for the student newspaper. In addition to agency and freelance marketing experience, she has reported extensively on Section 230, big tech, and rural broadband access. She is a founding board member of Code Open Sesame, an organization that teaches computer programming skills to underprivileged children.


Experts Clash Over Whether Reverse Auctions Are Ideal for BEAD Grants

Reverse auctions would stretch funding further.



Photo of Greg Rosston of Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research

WASHINGTON, May 24, 2023 – States should use a reverse auction process to divvy out money from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment program, said experts at an American Enterprise Institute event Wednesday.  

States are given two methods to stretch their funding amounts further, said Scott Wallsten, president of Technology Policy Institute. The first is to decide how they will distribute the money and the second is to determine where to set the extremely high-cost threshold, which will indicate where money can be spent for technology other than fiber.  

Reverse auctions where providers bid on the lowest amount of grant funding needed to fund a program are the solution to efficiently distribute limited funds, which are expected to be delivered to the states by June 30, said Wallsten.  

The Federal Communications Commission’s Rural Digital Opportunity Fund reverse auctions showed that winning bids were nearly half of what cost models estimated, which shows just how much dollars can stretch if done correctly, said Wallsten. 

Not all industry experts agree, however. CEO of DTC Communications Chris Townson said in a panel this month that reverse auctions simply create a race to the bottom without considering quality. “Let’s put our money to the things that really matter,” he said. 

We often underestimate the ability of firms to build out, said Greg Rosston of Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research Wednesday. Firms will respond to lower bids by finding innovative ways to work more efficiently, he said. Companies have accurate information about program costs and understand the risks, he continued. 

Photo of Greg Rosston during the webinar

“We should take advantage of this by harnessing the power of the markets,” he said, urging states to use reverse auctions to stretch the money further. 

NTIA should give direction on competitive grant requirements

Furthermore, the NTIA should set a framework for what states can do to meet the competitive grant requirement, said Rosston.  

The law specifies that states must have a competitive grant process without explaining what that means, he said. As it stands currently, it is unclear how states will decide how to allocate the money awarded to them in the BEAD program, Rosston continued. There is a lot of opportunity for wasteful spending, he said. 

We do not want 50 states and territories struggling to organize their own competitive grant processes, added Wallsten. 

There is nothing preventing the NTIA from asking the FCC to help the states with reverse auction processes by making the software and rules from RDOF auctions available or even running the auctions for the states, said Rosston. We need to make it easy to have states run their competitive processes as required in the law, he stated. 

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Utah City Approves UTOPIA Fiber Build

UTOPIA continues to expand open access model builds.



Photo of Bountiful City Hall

BOUNTIFUL, May 24, 2023 – The city council in Bountiful, Utah, voted unanimously to approve the building of a city-owned fiber network by Utah-based service provider UTOPIA Fiber Tuesday. 

The open access fiber infrastructure will be owned by the city but operated by UTOPIA Fiber, which will then lease the fiber to internet service providers. 

City council members expressed their resounding support for the program. We believe that the estimates of take rates are conservative and reasonable when compared to like communities, said City Manager Gary Hill, pointing to neighboring town Centerville that has 49 percent take rate on its city-owned network. 

Bountiful will issue $43 million in bonds to fund the program, announced the city. The debt service for the bond will be paid for using system revenues with any excess revenue invested into affordability assistance, city council members said.  

The initial contract term is 10 years with buildout expected to take 2-3 years. The city anticipates that it will make profit on the investment within four to five years of operation. 

In 2022, at the request of residents, the city issued a request for proposals that were released to potential fiber providers to build and operate a city-owned network. In January, Bountiful officials began contract negotiations with UTOPIA. 

“The purpose of the City’s involvement with fiber is to provide a competitive marketplace for internet service providers through an open access network,” read the city’s statement.  

The announcement comes months after West Haven, Utah announced its contract with UTOPIA Fiber for a city-wide network. 

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Representatives Focus in on Fiber Prioritization and Spectrum Management at NTIA

House Committee members said they wanted to ensure that the NTIA is appropriately managing funds to support rural areas.



Photo of Alan Davidson of NTIA

WASHINGTON, May 23, 2023 – Representatives at Tuesday’s Oversight Committee of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration expressed concern that the $42.5 billion Broadband Equity Access and Deployment program is prioritizing fiber builds to the detriment of rural communities. 

The NTIA’s authority and effective legal power was last authorized in 1993. Since then, the communications landscape has changed drastically. 

Recently, the NTIA submitted its 2024 budget request for $117.3 million, nearly double its current authorization. The hearing delved into the inner workings of the agency to ”ensure that NTIA is being good stewards of tax dollars allocated for broadband expansion.” 

Representatives expressed concern that fiber is unjustly prioritized in the BEAD Notice of Funding Opportunity. Building fiber to the premises can be economically impractical for many rural areas. 

In response, sole witness and NTIA Administrator, Alan Davidson, assured representatives that the administration expects many types of technologies to be deployed as part of the BEAD program. 

States are given the prerogative to determine what their best solution for deployment is, he said. States can determine for themselves what price point will qualify a project as an extremely high-cost deployment. 

Although states cannot close off applications to telecom companies based on technology, a fiber company that applies for funding is most likely to receive grant awards unless the area in question is considered an extremely high-cost location.  

Despite this assurance, many representatives, including August Pfluger, R-Texas, expressed concern that rural unserved and underserved locations will remain unfunded throughout the BEAD process. 

We will not accept state plans that do not show conclusive steps on connecting every single unserved address in their jurisdiction, said Davidson. 

Spectrum concerns

For the first time in U.S. history, there is no additional spectrum coming down the pipeline. The NTIA is working on developing a sustainable national spectrum strategy that will represent a government-wide approach to maximizing the potential of the nation’s spectrum resources. 

In April, the NTIA submitted a request for comment regarding the development and implementation of this strategy. It sought comment on the nation’s spectrum needs, how best to engage in long-term spectrum planning, and technology innovations that could better manage the nation’s spectrum resources. 

The NTIA is currently analyzing these responses and is on track to develop a spectrum policy that is “evidence and science based,” said Davidson. It is essential that the nation has a baseline policy to address spectrum conflicts, he said. 

Freeing up spectrum will require interagency coordination to determine where we can repurpose and increase sharing, said Davidson.  

Rep. Doris Matsui, D-Calif., is heading two bills, the Spectrum Relocation Enhancement Act and the Spectrum Coexistence Act that would make updates to the spectrum relocation fund that compensates federal agencies to clear spectrum for commercial use and would require NTIA to conduct a review of federal receiver technology to support more intensive use of limited spectrum.  

“Ensuring the federal government speaks with one voice on spectrum issues is foundational to Americas continued global leadership,” said Matsui. “And the NTIA is at the tip of the spear.” 

The Committee also considered 18 pieces of draft legislation that would elevate the NTIA’s role in coordinating interagency broadband funding, spectrum management, and cybersecurity policy development. One of which is the NTIA Reauthorization Act of 2023 that would “modernize the agency’s policies and mission and authorize its funding to match current funding levels.” 

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