Collins, Portman lead GOP in seeking changes to funding notice issued by NTIA

U.S. Sens. Susan Collins (R-ME) and Rob Portman (R-OH) led 11 of their Republican colleagues in requesting changes to several provisions in the National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s recent funding opportunity notice for the $42.45 billion Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) program.

The administration’s recent Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO) for the BEAD program, which was created under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), does accurately reflect key aspects of the direction Congress wants to take to deploy high-quality broadband service across the country, according to an Aug. 18 letter the senators sent to U.S. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, whose department houses the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA). 

However, “there are several areas… where the NOFO undermines or conflicts with congressional intent and plain language of the law,” they wrote. “Certain provisions go beyond the authority granted to NTIA and will discourage or deter broad provider participation. 

“This undermines our shared goal of delivering broadband service to all Americans as soon as possible,” according to their letter, which was also signed by lawmakers including U.S. Sens. Roger Wicker (R-MS), Thom Tillis (R-NC), Deb Fischer (R-NE), Richard Burr (R-NC), Bill Cassidy (R-LA), Roy Blunt (R-MO), and Mitt Romney (R-UT).

Sen. Collins, Sen. Portman, and their colleagues asked that the NTIA revise the NOFO in several areas to ensure the BEAD program is implemented as Congress intended.

For instance, the senators urged the NTIA to rescind or correct portions of the NOFO to clarify to states that rate regulation of broadband service is prohibited. 

They also urged the NTIA to clarify that technologies — such as fiber, fixed wireless, cable providers, and others — have all demonstrated an ability to reliably serve customers at the 100/20 Mbps required speed, an ability to scale up service over time, and an ability to support the deployment of other advanced telecommunication services, according to their letter.

Additionally, the senators advised NTIA to remove special preferences for certain providers and to focus assessments of participating providers on their substantive qualifications. Currently, the NOFO favors certain bidders for reasons unrelated to capability or performance, they wrote.

“These preferences will deter state broadband offices from selecting the provider that is best equipped to deliver broadband to unserved and underserved households,” according to their letter.

Likewise, the senators asked that the specific workforce-related obligations set out in the NOFO be removed because they “erect considerable roadblocks to ensuring swift deployment of broadband access to all Americans.” 

For example, the NOFO authorizes states to prefer or even mandate a provider’s use of a “directly employed workforce” instead of contractors and subcontractors. “Consequently, the NOFO risks exacerbating the current labor shortage by making it even harder for participating providers to find and employ workers who are not only capable of doing the job but also satisfy these additional extraneous requirements,” wrote the lawmakers.

While Sen. Collins, Sen. Portman, and their colleagues wrote that there is much to applaud in the NOFO, they remain “hopeful that NTIA will expeditiously publish revisions and clarifications to the NOFO to address [our] concerns to ensure that the IIJA’s implementation will be consistent with the congressional intent, allow deployment as swiftly as possible, and benefit the consumer.”