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FBA Public Policy Update

As we close out 2023, this year went by faster than data transmits through fiber. The FBA Public Policy Committee, which doubled in size this year, had many accomplishments in 2023. We focused mostly on the implementation of the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) program, seeking to preserve the fiber preference and facilitating participation by our members. We increased our advocacy on why fiber is the critical infrastructure for all Americans and raised awareness and on other issues like rural connectivity, permitting reform, and affordable broadband. FBA also participated in other federal public policy activities and in state proceedings and legislative activities. We are planning for an even more robust agenda in 2024 and want you to participate in our activities, policy discussions, and engagement.  


Quarterly Overview

Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) Grants 

Initial proposals for BEAD have begun to stream into the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA). While we assess these initial Volume One and Volume Two submissions, FBA continues to advocate on critical aspects of these proposals to ensure that all unserved and underserved locations are connected to high-performance, affordable broadband infrastructure, with a preference for fiber. Some of this advocacy includes expanding the Letter of Credit (LOC) requirement, clarifying the application of Build America, Buy America (BABA) provision for fiber, and improving the Extremely High-Cost Threshold.


BEAD Letter of Credit Requirement

FBA sent NTIA a letter requesting that they reconsider the irrevocable standby Letter of Credit (LOC) requirement for subgrantees receiving support under BEAD. Many FBA members will face challenges raising the collateral to meet this requirement and it will likely cause providers to divert capital away from fiber deployment. FBA supports assuring that all parties have the financial capabilities to complete projects, but the proposed goes beyond what is necessary to achieve that goal. We are most concerned that requiring a LOC will minimize competition and participation in the BEAD program ultimately disadvantaging communities and their residents.


Build America, Buy America (BABA)

On August 22nd, NTIA issued a proposed waiver for the BABA requirements. FBA and our members reviewed the waiver and submitted comments to NTIA about it. The proposed waiver is broken down into three parts, addressing optical fiber and fiber optic cable (considered construction materials), electronics, and enclosures (both categories considered manufactured materials). FBA has weighed in with recommendations on all three of these areas and our members have submitted their own individual comments. Our proposals included a limited waiver – “for non-optic-glass inputs (e.g., an overclad cylinder) to preforms used to manufacture optical fiber and fiber optic cable in BEAD program projects.” This need is due to supply chain concerns at peak building times. We also suggested the waiver include a more precise definition of the “covered” electronics or clarification of the scope of the waiver. We recommended the Commerce Department issue a more expansive nonavailability waiver for enclosures. Should Commerce decide not to adopt such a general waiver for all enclosures, FBA proposed that the Department provide a limited waiver that permits multiple options for achieving compliance. All submitted comments are currently being reviewed by NTIA.


BEAD Threshold Financial Model

FBA, in partnership with research firm Cartesian, unveiled a financial model in August 2023 that helps states calculate their extremely high-cost per location threshold (EHCT) for fiber broadband deployments using their BEAD funding. The sophisticated tool leverages geospatial analysis to build a financial model that states can use to develop their own cost thresholds for fiber deployments. NTIA’s BEAD Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO) directed states to expend program funds for all-fiber deployments except in the highest-cost areas, where alternative broadband technologies can be used. Importantly, no single EHCT threshold will universally meet program goals for each state’s specific allocations because the economics of deploying broadband technologies vary greatly across the country. 


The model allows states to test various inputs and visualize the implications of different thresholds. It considers the extent of fiber coverage, the extent of alternative broadband technology coverage, and whether any funds remain. What is most valuable about this model, is that there are many ways to calculate a cost per location and to maximize fiber coverage for the greatest population while still ensuring universal connectivity.


Broadband Infrastructure Playbook 3.0

In August, FBA in partnership with NTCA—The Rural Broadband Association and Cartesian, launched a series of new modules for FBA’s Broadband Infrastructure Playbook. These modules were developed to further assist state broadband offices in their ongoing development of BEAD infrastructure funding administered by NTIA. FBA published “Playbook 3.0” modules on the following topics: Permitting, Extremely High-Cost Threshold, Challenge Process, and Cybersecurity/Supply Chain. These Playbook 3.0 modules are fundamental to key elements of each state’s BEAD funding implementation plan, and a resource to ensure that each state broadband office gets these critical policy elements right. Additionally, this group hosted a webinar on these important topics in mid-October that may still be viewed on the FBA website.


A Full FCC

In September, Anna Gomez was confirmed to be an FCC Commissioner, bringing the Commission to full capacity. Brendan Carr and Geoffrey Starks were both also reconfirmed for additional five-year terms. FBA supports the confirmation of all three nominees. The U.S. remains in the midst of an enormous investment cycle to bring high-performance broadband service, especially fiber connectivity, to every household, business, and anchor institution, as well as to support 5G/6G, smart cities and grids, and other advanced technologies and applications. A full complement of FCC Commissioners will be critical to ensure a functional and effective regulatory landscape.


Title II Reform

In early October, FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) to reclassify broadband under Title II of the Communications Act. The NPRM was voted on and adopted at the October 19th FCC Open Meeting by a 3-2 vote. There will be a 60-day initial comment period and FBA will participate in this comment process. FBA has always and continues to maintain that there must be a measured approach to regulation in this space, ensuring that the market is able to function in order to continue extensive investment and deployment of our nation’s critical fiber broadband infrastructure, as well as affordable connectivity for all Americans.


Under the Dome

In September, the federal government avoided a shutdown at the 11th hour by passing a stopgap bill that was signed into law by President Biden just before the expiration of current appropriations. At the time of this column being drafted, uncertainty is the theme of this Congress and that shows no prospect of abating. 


Rural Broadband

The House Energy & Commerce Committee’s Communications and Technology Subcommittee held a hearing on rural broadband and broadband funding on September 21, 2023. FBA submitted a letter for the record to voice our support for increased coordination and funding for broadband deployment and adoption programs to ensure unserved and underserved locations in all areas, including rural communities, have access to high-quality and affordable fiber broadband services.


Permitting Legislation

In September, Senators John Barrasso (R-WY) and Kyrsten Sinema (I-AZ) introduced the CLOSE THE GAP Act. This bipartisan bill brings solutions to the table that will contribute to long-needed reforms to help streamline permitting and facilitate fiber broadband deployment. FBA fully supports this legislation and hopes to see similar solutions introduced in the House and ultimately enacted into law.


Fiber Broadband Association Public Policy Leadership

The FBA Public Policy Committee is led by co-chairs Chris Champion, Vice President, Government Affairs, C Spire; and Jordan Gross, Manager of Federal Government Affairs, Corning. Ariane Schaffer, Government & Public Policy, Google Fiber, is the FBA Board Liaison. If your company is interested in joining the public policy committee, please email to join.