Industry Associations Urge NTIA Action on Buy America Guidelines for BEAD Projects

A crucial step would be for the NTIA to provide Buy America waivers for BEAD-funded projects, panelists said.

Industry Associations Urge NTIA Action on Buy America Guidelines for BEAD Projects
Photo of Marissa Mitrovich, Louis Peraertz, Patrick Lozada and Teralyn Whipple at the Made in America Summit

WASHINGTON, June 29, 2023 – Industry experts called on the National Telecommunications and Information Administration to promptly provide clear guidelines on the implications of Buy America requirements for projects funded by the Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment program, now that states have already been informed of their funding allocations.

Marissa Mitrovich, vice president of the Fiber Broadband Association, highlighted at Broadband Breakfast’s Made in America summit on Tuesday the uncertainty shared by state broadband offices and manufacturers regarding the impact of the Build America, Buy America provisions. The legislation, which requires federally funded projects to use a certain percentage of domestically sourced construction materials, was strengthened through passed of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act of November 2021.

That adds complexity to an already “complicated” supply chain, she noted.

Patrick Lozada, director of global policy at the Telecommunications Industry Association, reiterated the same concerns regarding the potential slowdown of the rollout timeline and the subsequent rise in final costs due to the requirement. The limited domestic production of key materials, including electronic products, poses a significant challenge for manufacturers and deployers to secure an adequate supply within the designated five-year timeline, he said.

A crucial step in the right direction is for the NTIA to obtain waivers for BEAD-funded projects, panelists said. Besides item-specific waivers, panelists suggested time waivers and exempting countries with free trade agreements with the US from the restriction list.

“You don’t have a BEAD program without a waiver,” said Lozada. “There’s no combination of products and services that will connect a consumer to the internet and will meet Build America Buy America requirements.”

In fact, the BABA Act includes provisions that allow agencies to acquire waivers if it is deemed to be in the public interest, if the required materials are not adequately accessible in the US, or if implementing the requirement would escalate the project cost by 25 percent or more. NTIA has already issued waivers for its $1 billion Enabling Middle Mile Broadband Infrastructure program to exempt certain construction materials from the requirement list.

NTIA head Alan Davidson, however, indicated that getting such exceptions for BEAD-funded projects would be very difficult.

Louis Peraertz, vice president at WISPA – Broadband Without Boundaries, remained hopeful as states proceed from receiving their funding allocations to the implementation phase, they will have the opportunity to advocate for waivers, particularly with the challenge process.

“This administration is all about working with our partners and allies,” said Lozada. “Why aren’t we doing that here?”

The panel also emphasized the importance of considering the long-term implications of Buy America on the domestic industry, highlighting that the potential growth in construction jobs would outweigh any delays caused by the requirements, and recommended exploring alternative methods to enhance US competitiveness in the manufacturing market.

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