WISPA Urges Congressional Oversight of NTIA BEAD NOFO

The following statement may be attributed to David M. Zumwalt, President and CEO of WISPA – Broadband Without Boundaries:  

Washington, DC, June 9, 2022 – WISPA – Broadband Without Boundaries welcomes today’s oversight hearing of the NTIA.  Though the agency sits at the crux of a number of integral telecommunications matters, none is more pressing today than its Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) Program Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO).  Because the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) forecloses judicial and other standard avenues of review of the NOFO, Congressional oversight of this unprecedented program remains critically important.

Contrary to Congress’ tech-neutral design in the IIJA , the NOFO currently restricts states’ ability to fund reliable wireless technology using entirely unlicensed spectrum for BEAD-funded projects.  It prioritizes fiber for end-to-end broadband builds and instructs states to keep to this unreasonable and expensive limitation, with only limited exception.  In doing so, it eliminates a broad class of providers who can ably serve areas that do not have broadband.  Moreover, it unnecessarily restricts use of an important tool for state broadband officials, one which is tremendously potent in rapidly serving hard to reach, high-cost or topographically challenged areas of their states.

In addition to discarding decades of Federal Communications Commission (FCC) rulemaking and spectrum licensing precedent, the BEAD NOFO ignores the billions of dollars of investment and tremendous innovation that has been occurring in technology for wireless broadband using entirely unlicensed spectrum for almost two decades.  For example, over the past few years, technology and equipment for one spectrum band in particular – the 57 to 71 GHz band – has advanced to such a degree that it can be used to deploy fiber-like performance – multi-Gigabit per second download and upload speeds.

WISPA’s members work in close proximity to the very areas BEAD seeks to help.  WISPs provide reliable broadband to millions of Americans, connecting them to public safety institutions, schools, hospitals, governmental bodies, local businesses, and, of course, their families and neighbors.  WISPs do this with a broad, flexible and evolutionary toolbox, using the right technology for the job, such as fixed wireless access (FWA), including where appropriate the use of entirely unlicensed spectrum; and fiber facilities.

FWA is an especially resilient and agile tool.  WISPs employ it to deploy reliable broadband quickly and cost effectively, often where wired solutions cannot go.  With it, WISPs connect communities in a matter of weeks with life-bettering broadband, instead of the years it can take when fiber is used.

FWA, whether using licensed or unlicensed spectrum or in combination, is reliable broadband.  The FCC, other federal agencies, and states and their subdivisions have long recognized it as a reliable and effective technology for their various broadband support programs.  Numerous federal, state and municipal projects, among others, depend in some measure on unlicensed FWA to realize their specific broadband-related goals.

The marketplace, too, recognizes the reliability of unlicensed FWA.  Millions of Americans get their service from 2,800 WISPs, the majority of which use unlicensed FWA to deliver internet access to their customers.  Banks, private equity and other lending establishments have loaned FWA providers billions of dollars to grow their businesses.  A $10 billion+ FWA hardware, software and services industry has emerged as a result.  That is because WISP customers like and depend on unlicensed FWA to stay connected.

The NTIA defines reliable broadband service as: (1) fixed; (2) available with a high degree of certainty; and (3) both at present and for the foreseeable future.  Using this standard alone, FWA using entirely unlicensed spectrum is reliable.  To this end, the NTIA must clarify its guidance to better align it with the goals of the IIJA, providing states with the maximum ability to bring more solutions to the table, not fewer.  Doing otherwise will not only waste limited funds through needless overbuilding but will also keep the hardest to serve communities offline for years to come.

We urge the Congress to ensure the NTIA remains true to the IIJA’s design, and we pledge our steadfast efforts to work with all stakeholders so that the BEAD Program works as originally envisioned by Congress in the IIJA.

About WISPA – Broadband Without Boundaries
WISPA’s approximately 1000 members provide fixed broadband connectivity, and include equipment suppliers, support services, and other industry partners and stakeholders. Our members provide broadband access to millions of residential and business customers in rural, urban and Tribal areas across America.

Mike Wendy