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House Communications Democrats Urge Davidson to Keep Reviewing BEAD Plans on Affordability

House Commerce Committee ranking member Frank Pallone (N.J.), Communications Subcommittee ranking member Doris Matsui (Calif.) and 10 other subpanel Democrats urged NTIA Administrator Alan Davidson Tuesday "to continue to prioritize affordability in your administration of" the $42.5 billion broadband equity,…

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access and deployment (BEAD) program as the agency reviews states' plans for the money. The Democrats wrote Davidson days after Congress approved the Further Consolidated Appropriations Act FY 2024 minibus spending package without hoped-for stopgap money for the FCC's affordable connectivity program or Secure and Trusted Communications Networks Reimbursement Program (see 2403210067). "Access to internet service is meaningless to consumers if the cost of signing up is a barrier,” the lawmakers said in their letter. “Studies show that nearly half of all broadband non-adopters cited cost as the primary reason they did not have home internet service." The 2021 Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which created ACP and BEAD, "includes separate affordability provisions that are specific to the BEAD program," the lawmakers said: "Congress decided to allocate BEAD funds to states and territories since they are best situated to determine the needs of their communities, but it did not change any existing authority to oversee broadband or pricing." NTIA has "administrative oversight and programmatic support responsibilities to ensure the funds would be spent consistent with Congressional intent, including the review and approval of proposals after significant consultation between the state or territory and NTIA," the Democrats said. "These are critical procedures for NTIA to follow in determining whether low-cost plans are in fact affordable for the areas and markets where they are proposed." It "would be a significant missed opportunity in the administration of BEAD if these affordability provisions are not exercised to their fullest to help middle-class and low-income Americans afford the cost of internet service, consistent with the statute," the lawmakers said. Congressional Republicans have criticized NTIA's reviews of state plans' affordability provisions as a form of rate regulation (see 2312180063).