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'Lot on Our Plate'

Most States Intend to Participate in NTIA BEAD Program: Davidson

NTIA received letters of intent from 39 out of 56 states and territories indicating their interest in participating in the agency’s $42.5 billion broadband, equity, access, and deployment program, said Administrator Alan Davidson Thursday during a Media Institute event. “It’s going really well,” Davidson said: “We’ve been talking about the digital divide in this country for over 20 years … and finally, thanks to the bipartisan infrastructure law and other funding out there, we’ve been given this historic opportunity to really do something about it.”

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We have a lot on our plate” with the “opportunity we have been given around broadband,” Davidson said. Releasing the notices of funding opportunity (NOFOs) for NTIA’s broadband programs funded through the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act was the “key first step for us,” Davidson said, adding the BEAD program is “our top priority right now.” The “next step is getting states on board,” he said, and states “see the opportunity here.”

Affordability is a “necessity” as part of the BEAD program, Davidson said. The program requires subgrantees to offer a low-cost service option for low-income consumers to receive funding, and NTIA “gave states a fair amount of flexibility in how they’re going to implement that,” he said. States will be required to consider affordability when awarding grants. NTIA also included a requirement that states address a “middle class affordability option,” Davidson said: “We are quite open to how states intend to implement that.”

Davidson dismissed concerns raised by Senate Commerce Republicans that some of the requirements in NTIA’s NOFOs may be an attempt to introduce rate regulation or net neutrality policies (see 2206090072). “They’re not,” Davidson said: The notices “talk a lot about affordability … but there’s no place in our notices that we set a price for any broadband service.” NTIA has “been completely faithful to the letter and also the intent of the statute,” he said.

NTIA’s reliance on the FCC’s broadband maps for its programs is an “absolutely critical issue,” Davidson said, and “if we’re going to spend this money wisely, we need to make sure we’re spending it in the right places.” Davidson encouraged ISPs to submit data to the FCC as soon as possible once the broadband data collection system opens on June 30 so it can “get that first draft of the map out early in the fall.”

Davidson said NTIA “take[s] seriously” its responsibility to consider the “commercial perspective” and “competitiveness in the world” on spectrum issues. “The key starting point for us in that is to make sure we’re coordinating very well the key other agencies that are involved in this,” he said. NTIA and the FCC agreed to update their memorandum of understanding “by the end of next month,” Davidson said.

There's a “need for better coordination” following the C-band issues faced earlier this year with the FCC, FAA, NTIA, wireless carriers and the aviation industry, Davidson said, and “the fact is we really do need to make sure that our federal missions are met" (see 2205030063). Aviation safety is something “we cannot ignore,” he said, but “we want to make sure we protect the commercial uses and also the integrity of our auction process:" It was “an example of what happens if we don’t do that coordination right.”