Proposed ‘Buy America’ Waiver Will Give Industry Ability to Build By BEAD Deadline: Experts

Buy America provisions are seeping into state and provider policies.

Proposed ‘Buy America’ Waiver Will Give Industry Ability to Build By BEAD Deadline: Experts
Photo of Marissa Mitrovich of FBA, Lori Adams of Nokia, Kara Mullaley of Corning Optical Communications and Lee Osterman of Wesco (left to right)

ORLANDO, August 24, 2023 – Broadband supply chain experts said at a Fiber Connect conference panel on Tuesday that the National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s proposed waiver for domestic manufacturing preferences for builds under the Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment program will give the industry the ability to complete projects by deadline.

The NTIA released a proposed waiver on Tuesday on certain components in response to industry concerns that Build America, Buy America rules for some build components under the $42.5-billion broadband funding program will limit providers’ ability to build networks to every unserved address in the United States within the program’s up-to five-year deadline. If implemented, the waiver would allow providers to bypass rules on some fiber electronics requiring a minimum of 55 percent of project costs come from components made in America.

Lee Osterman, vice president of broadband equipment supplier Wesco, said it is important to remember that the primary goal of the BEAD program is to connect every unserved and underserved address in the United States to reliable, high-speed internet. Domestic preferencing is priority two, he said, warning that if the government pushes this priority too hard, builds will be delayed until 2050 instead of the current connectivity goal of 2030.

“We have to let this happen at a realistic pace,” said Osterman, expressing support for the NTIA providing grantee’s more leeway with Buy America requirements.

Kara Mullaley, market development manager at Corning Optical Communications, added that although Buy America requirements are “altruistic and good,” they have the potential to overshadow the real goal of getting broadband to as many people as possible as quickly as possible.

NTIA waivers will release some of the pressures of Buy America without ignoring the White House’s goal of improving American competitiveness in manufacturing, they said.

Osterman predicted that BEAD waivers will provide reprise for early opportunities and projects and will be short term and narrow at first. He expects that over time, waivers will be increasingly more restrictive to encourage American manufacturing investment.

He added that he expects that in several years, the United States will have the manufacturing capacity comparable to the manufacturing capacity it had at its height. Manufacturing will be on-shored if we build a preference for it in private builds, he added.

In fact, Lori Adams, VP of broadband policy and funding strategy at Nokia, said that some states are starting to adopt provisions similar to Buy America. Additionally, some providers are beginning to require that all components of their networks are Buy American compliant as a matter of course, she said.

Nokia announced an extensive fiber electronics manufacturing plant in Wisconsin in August with the assumption that the domestic manufacturing preference will be increasingly upheld by the federal government for federally-funded projects, said Adams.

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