‘Stick to congressional intent on broadband rate regs,’ GOP members tell NTIA

U.S. Reps. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) and Bob Latta (R-OH) recently led more than a dozen of their U.S. House Energy and Commerce (E&C) Committee Republican colleagues in calling out the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) for ignoring congressional intent regarding broadband rate regulation.

In a Dec. 15 letter sent to NTIA Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Communications and Information Alan Davidson, the committee members cited Davidson’s testimony during a Dec. 5 E&C subcommittee hearing entitled, “Oversight of the NTIA.”

“Throughout the hearing, you provided troubling answers that suggested that the NTIA would permit rate regulation by states participating in the Broadband, Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) Program,” they wrote. “These answers are concerning, as they suggest that the NTIA is administering this program in violation of the law.”

Created by the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), the BEAD Program prohibits the Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Communications and Information and the NTIA from “regulat[ing] the rates charged for broadband service,” according to their letter, which noted that members of Congress agreed that this language meant that “no rate regulation of broadband services would be authorized or permitted by NTIA or the Assistant Secretary who leads NTIA as part of the state broadband grant program.” 

“Based on your testimony, it appears that you are planning to ignore this congressional direction,” wrote Rep. McMorris Rodgers, Rep. Latta, and their colleagues. 

“Although your testimony reaffirmed that NTIA itself would not engage in rate regulation, you did not foreclose approval of state plans that regulated rates of broadband service,” they wrote. “Indeed, when directly asked, “Will NTIA permit a state to rate regulate, yes or no,” you did not provide a yes or no answer and instead stated that NTIA would give states flexibility on how to approach this issue.

“This “flexibility” to pursue rate regulation is not only concerning, but is strictly prohibited,” wrote the lawmakers. “Your responses to this committee on this topic are extremely problematic, particularly because some states have submitted initial proposals to NTIA that include some form of rate regulation.”

The members also said they define broadband rate regulation as “regulating the rate of broadband services in any way, including setting a rate, freezing rates, or placing a cap on rates.”

“We ask that you confirm whether NTIA will approve state plans that include rate regulation, as defined in this letter,” they wrote. “If NTIA plans to approve these plans, we also ask that you provide an explanation of why you and the Biden administration are ignoring the IIJA.”

Among the GOP lawmakers who joined Rep. McMorris and Rep. Latta in signing the letter were U.S. Reps. Buddy Carter (R-GA), John Curtis (R-UT), John Joyce (R-PA), Troy Balderson (R-OH), August Pfluger (R-TX), and Jay Obernolte (R-CA).