FCC Urged to Address Overbuilding and Broadband Tech Neutrality in Agency Coordination

The FCC should incorporate the mapping data from local governments to avoid overbuilding, ensure technology neutrality.

FCC Urged to Address Overbuilding and Broadband Tech Neutrality in Agency Coordination
Photo of Tom Vilsack, secretary for the Department of Agriculture

WASHINGTON, August 3, 2022 – The Federal Communications Commission should incorporate the mapping data from local governments to avoid overbuilding, assure a technology neutrality position, and make more transparent the coordination process with other federal agencies, according to responses to the FCC proceeding on interagency coordination.

Last month, the FCC issued a public notice inviting comment on the interagency agreement between the FCC, U.S. Department of Agriculture, and National Telecommunications and Information Administration on coordinating broadband efforts, known as the Broadband Interagency Coordination Act. The comments received will be reported to Congress as findings and potential improvements to the agreement.

BICA currently outlines that agencies must provide information about project areas, entities that provide broadband services, levels of broadband service provided, and each entity that has or will receive funds to provide service in that area upon request from another agency.

In its submission Monday, NCTA, the Internet and Television Association, called for the agreement to include efforts to ensure that all federal agencies avoid awarding funds to locations that have already been funded, eliminating overbuilding and inefficient use of taxpayer resources.

For example, the USDA’s ReConnect program currently permits funding in areas where a provider has already committed to build out using funds from the FCC’s Rural Digital Opportunity Fund.

To ensure agencies have a picture of existing funds, the NCTA suggests that the agreement facilitate the development of a comprehensive map of funded locations using local data. It further suggests that the agreement be amended to require the use of both the FCC’s Broadband DATA Act maps and challenge process – which is currently in development – as well as the Deployment Locations Map, which is required through the Infrastructure, Investment and Jobs Act.

USTelecom, a trade association representing telecom-related businesses, added its support to avoid overbuilding . “A key policy objective of any federal government support program is that money is not spent twice on the same project… the federal agencies can improve BICA coordination by requiring these state agencies to report where they are making awards once the award is made,” it wrote.

USTelecom has denounced the idea of using funds from federal grant programs to create broadband access to areas that have already been provided access through other federal funds. Other experts, however, suggest that overbuilding may be good so long as funds subsidize newer, better networks, not older technologies.

USTelecom further suggests in its submission that federal agencies can improve coordination by requiring state agencies to report where they are making awards once they are made. Currently, none of the rules for federal programs that support broadband builds require states to report where service will be provided with the funds until after the project is complete. The comment indicated that early reporting will advance the FCC’s ability to access and move forward with critical decisions and avoid overbuilding.

Other submitters want technology neutrality, transparency of information

SpaceX, a low earth orbit satellite service provider, said in its own submission that the agreement should “adopt uniform technology neutrality” in considering broadband services. This would reduce inconsistencies regarding which deployment technologies are funding-eligible under various programs and help avoid exclusive funding toward one type of service, read the comment.

Technology neutral standards would allow states, territories and tribes to compare broadband services and providers to help them determine which is the best option for their needs, the comment added.

The NCTA also suggested Congress release information on coordination between agencies, including issues that are resolved, and how often the agencies meet. “Greater transparency will enable interested parties to better assess the effectiveness of the interagency coordination,” the comment reads.

The submissions come as the FCC and the NTIA agreed on a memorandum of understanding, released Monday, that outlines how often and when they will coordinate on spectrum-related issues.