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Understanding BEAD’s Build America Buy America Provisions

Understanding BEAD’s Build America Buy America Provisions

With $42.45 billion in BEAD money at stake for new and upgraded broadband networks, equipment manufacturers and service providers alike are closely examining the fine print in what can be procured under NTIA’s mandates using federal funds, as well as how it must be documented.

“The [Build America Buy America] rules are unique to the BEAD program,” stated Thomas Cohen, Fiber Broadband Association’s Chief Regulatory and General Counsel. “They are not for any other [federal] program. [USDA] RUS on February 21 came out with its own Build America Buy America rules. The rules for ReConnect are different in the sense they’re more lenient. In addition, this doesn’t apply to the FCC, RDOF, A-CAM, CAF, you name it.”

Last week, the NTIA published its “Limited General Nonavailability Applicability Waiver” for the Buy America provisions attached to BEAD funding, essentially spelling out what products and materials must be purchased and sourced from U.S. manufacturers in the construction of broadband networks and which materials and items are either exempt or may be purchased after securing the appropriate waiver from the Department of Commerce.

Basic materials such as fiber optic cable and the glass used to make it must be manufactured and purchased in the U.S., but the connectors attached to the cable don’t have to, noted Cohen. Most electronics can be sourced from anywhere, except for OLTs and rOLTs, OLT line cards, optic pluggables, and standalone ONTs and ONUs. The exceptions must be assembled, software integrated, tested, packed, and shipped within the United States to be purchased using BEAD funding, with 55% of the manufacturing value occurring in the U.S.

“There’s one exception to [ONTs], and there’s combined ONT/ONUs,” said Cohen. “Department of Commerce concluded that these are mostly made overseas and will not be made here because of the economics. Therefore, they are waiving [these items] entirely.”

Enclosures manufacturing for items such as cabinets, vaults, and pedestals must also occur in the U.S., including the production of the molded outer shell and integrated subassemblies, along with the installation of internal components, wiring, seal and waterproofing, and testing and documentation.

Cohen noted there’s still more refinement to come on BEAD Buy America requirements. “We’ll get further guidance,” said Cohen. “As service providers are preparing their applications, they’re going to be selecting vendors, asking for a list of products and they’re going to be saying ‘Does it comply?’”

To learn more about the intricacies around BEAD’s Buy America provisions, listen to the latest Fiber for Breakfast podcast.