As the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) works on finalizing its notice of funding opportunity for the Broadband Equity Access and Deployment (BEAD) grant program, various industry players are looking to have a final say in the rule-making process.
The most recent bit of advice came on Friday from the Fiber Broadband Association (FBA) and NTCA–The Rural Broadband Association. In a letter to NTIA chief Alan Davidson, Gary Bolton, CEO of FBA, and Shirley Bloomfield, CEO of NTCA, urged Davidson to set a few specific rules into BEAD's notice of funding opportunity that would favor fiber and prioritize proven projects poised to connect the most unserved premises.
The associations previously teamed up on a playbook that would help states apply for BEAD grants and fund fiber projects.
In their letter, as in their prior outreach to NTIA regarding BEAD, Bloomfield and Bolton urged Davidson to prioritize fiber deployments, saying that fixing the digital divide "cannot be done by adopting half-measures that might only lead to this problem recurring in only a few years' time."
Further, noting that fiber has been deployed to 50 million premises, they argued that "the market has spoken: if it is not fiber, it is not broadband."
The CEOs also encouraged the NTIA to prioritize funding builds poised to connect the most people. That includes "projects that aim to serve a higher percentage of unserved location" and those that "commit to obtaining a substantial take rate within a reasonable time after service begins."
This ain't RDOF
In a nod to the early errors of the FCC's Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) reverse auction, which kicked off with far more funding for the nascent low-Earth orbit (LEO) satellite industry than fiber stakeholders could stomach, Bolton and Bloomfield's letter says that the "most important lesson learned" from RDOF is to give funds "to competent and financially sound providers that are deploying network technologies that have actually been deployed."
Further, the letter argues that there have been "concerns" with prior programs seeking to award grants "based on subjective factors and policies."
In a statement to Broadband World News, the Fiber Broadband Association elaborated on that point through a spokesperson: "First is a concern that in some states, funds weren't awarded based on merit, but rather through political connections. And in other states, there are concerns that funds have been directed to incumbent providers rather than potentially more qualified new entrants."
The NTIA is expected to issue its notice of funding opportunity for BEAD, incorporating feedback from stakeholders, by May 16. Last week, the agency announced a series of new appointments as it prepares to distribute billions in broadband funds, including Evan Feinman, formerly the chief broadband advisor to former Virginia Governor Ralph Northam, to lead the $42.45 billion BEAD program as deputy associate administrator.
— Nicole Ferraro, site editor, Broadband World News; senior editor, global broadband coverage, Light Reading. Host of "The Divide" on the Light Reading Podcast.