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Democrats Scold Carr

House Commerce Republicans Probe NTIA BEAD Communications With States

House Commerce Committee Republicans launched a probe Tuesday of NTIA’s communications with state-level broadband offices related to the $42.5 billion broadband equity, access and deployment (BEAD) program. Long-standing Republican criticisms of BEAD, meanwhile, became a major issue during a House Communications Subcommittee hearing that morning on the FCC’s FY 2025 budget request (see 2407090049). Lawmakers sparred over the propriety of GOP Commissioner Brendan Carr publicly slamming the program.

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The House Appropriations Committee voted 31-26 Tuesday to advance its Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies Subcommittee FY25 budget bill with proposed cuts to annual funding for NTIA, other Commerce Department Agencies and the DOJ Antitrust Division (see 2406260057). The bill would fund NTIA at $56.5 million, more than a 15% decrease from what the Biden administration sought in March and 4% less than it received for FY 2024 (see 2403040083).

Based on anecdotal evidence from different entities involved in the process, it appears that the NTIA may be evaluating initial proposals counter to congressional intent and in violation of” the 2021 Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, House Commerce Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash.; Communications Subcommittee Chairman Bob Latta, R-Ohio; and Oversight Subcommittee Chairman Morgan Griffith, R-Va., said in a letter to Alan Davidson, the NTIA chief. Republican lawmakers have repeatedly raised concerns that NTIA is using IIJA’s low-cost offering requirements as a backdoor to rate regulation (see 2405150020).

States have reported that the NTIA is directing them to set rates and conditioning approval of initial proposals on doing so,” the GOP lawmakers said. “This undoubtedly constitutes rate regulation by the NTIA. Indeed, one state publicly posted the NTIA’s feedback that the agency would not approve their initial proposal without 'an exact price or formula’ for the state’s low-cost option.” The issue resurfaced during a June House Innovation Subcommittee hearing on the Commerce Department’s FY25 budget (see 2406260057).

House Commerce Republicans want NTIA to provide them with all BEAD-related communications with state broadband offices by July 23. They want information on the “factors or conditions that are preventing state entities from having their initial proposals accepted.” The probe also seeks “all instances where a state’s initial proposal was not accepted without edits or initially rejected or required to be resubmitted due in part to the BEAD’s low-cost option requirement pricing as a factor in the decision.”

We’ve received the letter and will respond through the appropriate channels,” an NTIA spokesperson said in an email. The agency “is working to implement BEAD in a manner that is faithful to the statute.” ACA Connects “supports” the House Commerce investigation, CEO Grant Spellmeyer said. “Our members know that restrictive requirements that result in rate regulation will deter investment & make it hard to close the digital divide, especially in rural America.”

BEAD “is a program that is going off the rails,” Carr said during the House Communications hearing. “It has now been 967 days since President [Joe] Biden signed this $42 billion plan into law” and “not one person has been connected to the internet with those dollars.” The Biden administration’s confirmation that no BEAD-funded projects will begin construction until next year means it will be “the slowest moving federal broadband deployment program in recent history, as far as I can tell,” Carr said. He blamed NTIA’s use of the implementation process to advance “progressive policy goals” for slowing BEAD, in part citing the rate-regulation claims.

Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Mich., speaking on behalf of House Commerce ranking member Frank Pallone, D-N.J., called Carr’s criticism “ridiculous attacks” that “fail to recognize that this is the largest investment in broadband deployment in our nation’s history, and we want to make sure we get it right.” Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Calif., later said “to disparage the BEAD program” as Carr did is “just dead wrong.” Rep. Lizzie Fletcher, D-Texas, was among other lawmakers who expressed surprise or disappointment at Carr’s comments.