States can use BEAD funding for more than fiber, NTIA administrator says
National Telecommunications and Information Administration head Alan Davidson told lawmakers Tuesday that states will be able to spend their Broadband, Equity, Access and Deployment funds on fixed wireless and satellite technology, in addition to fiber optic broadband networks.
The NTIA’s $42.5 BEAD program was the subject of many questions during a House Energy and Commerce Committee oversight hearing on Davidson’s agency.
While states will be encouraged to spend their BEAD allocations on fiber optic construction, the NTIA has created a process for states to pursue other technologies where appropriate, Davidson told members of the committee’s Communications and Technology panel. He said states would have the authority to determine the threshold at which fiber installation would become cost-prohibitive, with some states setting this threshold lower than others.
During the hearing, several members expressed disappointment that the NTIA’s notice of funding opportunity was not more technology-agnostic in support of connecting as many Americans to high-speed internet as possible. Some committee members noted their states had terrain that would make fiber installation costly and difficult — echoing concerns raised in an April letter to Davidson from 11 Republican senators.
“There will be some areas where you will be able to connect everybody with fiber with the funding that’s given to states that choose to do that, other states will have a mix,” Davidson said. “We’re going to see a range of choices made by states. I think our [Notice of Funding Opportunity] supports that and we do fully expect there will be a range of technologies — including a lot of fiber.”
Davidson also said Tuesday that the NTIA is on track to announce the full BEAD allocations going to states by June 30. Those amounts will be based on an updated version of the Federal Communication Commission’s national broadband map, which is due to be published May 30.
“Good maps are critical if we’re going to make sure we’re spending this money well, if we’re going to meet our mission of connecting everybody, we need to be spending the money in the right places,” Davidson said. “We think the map the FCC is working on now is substantially improved—much more accurate, much more granular than we’ve ever had before.”
The hearing also touched on the March lapse of the FCC’s authorization to hold spectrum auctions, with Davidson expressing his desire for Congress to move quickly to resolve the issue. The full House Energy and Commerce Committee approved a reauthorization bill on Wednesday.