Sean Gonsalves: NTIA Assistant Secretary Alan Davidson talks about BEAD at Mountain Connect 2022: Broadband Breakfast

Mountain Connect 2022 got a big kickoff this morning in Keystone, Colorado with a Q&A between National Telecommunications and Information Administration Assistant Secretary Alan Davidson and CEO , Broadband Breakfast editor and publisher, Drew Clark.

Davidson provided an overview of the recently released funding opportunity notice for the $42.5 billion Broadband Access and Deployment Program, which set the stage for the multitude of breakout sessions. which attracted a who’s who of broadband providers, vendors and decision makers. and sellers.

Under the BEAD program, each of the 50 states will be eligible to receive a minimum of $100 million to expand high-speed internet access, although most states will receive hundreds of millions more as additional funds will be allocated to states based on a formula that takes into account the number of unserved households in each state.

Most states on board for BEAD

Davidson said 25 states have already submitted their letters of intent to seek BEAD funding. A total of 35 states have indicated they will also participate in the program as the NTIA works with the other 15 states and territories to encourage them to take advantage of the largest ever federal investment in broadband.

While Davidson touted the unprecedented opportunity now available to states to bridge the digital divide, Clark asked him about several concerns about the BEAD application process requirements that a number of broadband advocates and service providers Small and medium-sized Internet services have since risen. the NOFO was released on May 13.

One issue in particular raised by Clark was the letter of credit requirement that subrecipients must acquire to be eligible for funding. A number of ISPs and local officials interested in municipal broadband projects say the requirement is onerous and could prove a deterrent to new entrants in the broadband market now dominated by large monopoly ISPs.

Davidson noted that his office has heard those concerns and that the NTIA may adjust the rules based on those comments.

NTIA will encourage states to include public networks

We also had the opportunity to ask Davidson a question: States with preemptive laws that prevent or erect barriers that prevent municipalities, co-ops, nonprofits, and other public entities from accessing BEAD funds be disqualified from the BEAD program?

Davidson said the NTIA will pressure states not to lock down state-owned broadband projects and that if they offer to do so, they must disclose the reasons. But, he stopped short of saying that states with such preemptive laws would be disqualified from participating in the BEAD program.

However, both Davidson and Clark pointed to specific NOFO language that says:

  • The NTIA strongly encourages eligible entities (states) to waive all such (preemptive) laws for the purposes of the program. If an Eligible Entity does not do so, the Eligible Entity must identify all such laws in its initial proposal and describe how the laws will be applied in the competition for the subawards. Such eligible entity must, in its final proposal, disclose each unsuccessful application affected by such laws and describe the impact of such laws on the decision to reject the application.

Internet for all?

Although Davidson did not explicitly say that the NTIA would wholeheartedly accept BEAD requests from states whose preemption laws lock in public sector providers, it seems clear that the NTIA will not deny BEAD funds to states whose preemption laws lock in public sector providers. preemption violates both the letter and the spirit of infrastructure investment. and Jobs Act (IIJA), which authorized the BEAD program.

BEAD NOFO and Davidson’s remarks were a major topic of discussion during dozens of breakout sessions held later in the day, covering everything from financing new broadband investments and community development to case studies. community broadband and emerging technologies.

Several NTIA officials have asserted that BEAD is meant to connect all Americans and, in fact, the Biden administration calls it the internet for all initiative. However, neither Congress nor the Biden administration has a plan to ensure that all low-income urban households are connected.

The three-day conference will end on Wednesday with the final day kicking off with a question-and-answer session with US Senator John Hickenlooper.

Watch our Connect This! liveteam discussing the implications of BEAD NOFO here.

This article was originally published on the Municipal Broadband Project of the Institute for Local Self Reliance on May 24, 2022 and is reprinted with permission.

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