Senator Cruz Report on NTIA BEAD Shortcomings, Waste Is Spot On

The following statement may be attributed to Matt Mandel, VP of Government Affairs, WISPA – Broadband Without Boundaries:
Washington, DC, September 15, 2023 – The Senate Commerce Committee’s report, under the leadership of Ranking Member Senator Ted Cruz, entitled “Stop Waste, Fraud and Abuse in Federal Broadband Funding” (Report) says it all.  Government policy to close the digital divide is awash in wasteful conflict, which limits its reach and ultimately dooms those who truly lack broadband.  Nowhere is that more evident than with the Administration’s BEAD NOFO, which sends $42 billion to the states for duplicative overbuilding – spending made even more pernicious due to the “Biden administration’s technology bias against non-fiber broadband [which] will drive up costs by billions of dollars and likely deprive some communities of any broadband access at all,” notes the Report. 
WISPA and other stakeholders worked throughout the development of the underlying legislation – the IIJA – to ensure tech-neutrality within the NTIA’s program.  This approach brings more solutions to the table to quickly and cost-effectively meet the costly challenges inherent in bridging the digital divide: i.e., sparse population densities placed throughout America in geographically distant or topographically challenging locales.  NTIA’s BEAD NOFO, however, strays radically from that path.  In fact, the NOFO choses only one technology – fiber – as the preferred medium, calling it the “priority broadband project,” to reach unserved and underserved Americans. 
As the Report highlights:
“NTIA ignores the reality that alternative technologies like fixed wireless and satellite may be better suited to different consumers and geographies…[In doing so] the Biden administration’s BEAD rules summarily exclude certain technologies—namely unlicensed fixed wireless and satellite—from being considered ‘reliable broadband service,’ [making areas served by those technologies] considered unserved for the purposes of BEAD and eligible to be overbuilt. This summary exclusion is not only at odds with the IIJA but real-world cases where non-fiber technologies have served as reliable and innovative alternatives.”
WISPA’s members deliver reliable broadband connectivity to millions in the toughest reaches of the country.  Fiber.  Wireless.  Cable.  Satellite.  They use whatever technology is best suited to overcome the unique challenges of each rural and exurban area they serve to provide high-speed broadband to customers which larger, billion-dollar companies could not make a business case to serve.  For over two decades they have labored in the digital divide – almost entirely with private dollars – to get their communities online.  A large portion of those investments are built on reliable, unlicensed wireless connectivity.  It is quick to deploy, cost effective, and can readily evolve to meet the needs of the marketplace.  
However, BEAD eschews that technology, declaring those regions as “unserved,” and thus opening them up to needless overbuilding.  This not only undermines billions of dollars of private investment and, to a growing extent, public investment, it will inhibit or prevent broadband investment by the very players most likely and able to do so in the future.  The communities they serve will suffer negative short, near, and long-term effects as a result.  
NTIA can avoid this deleterious outcome. 
The Report calls on policymakers to stay away from overbuilding areas that have broadband service or are slated to receive support from other federal or state programs; and to adhere to the principles of tech-neutrality to avoid “overspending at the expense of connecting unserved communities.”  Among other things, the Report also recommends that “NTIA should revise BEAD rules so less costly technologies that are capable of meeting the IIJA broadband standard, like satellite and fixed wireless, are subject to a level playing field.”    
We strongly agree.  BEAD will only find success if it can reduce its self-induced waste and bring more viable solutions to the table.  All solutions that work must be on the table.  American taxpayers deserve as much.  Especially those who lack online access.  WISPA urges the NTIA to adopt the Report’s recommendations so that it can truly work to eradicate the digital divide.  
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