Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce Committee wrote a letter to the National Telecommunications and Information Association (NTIA) Administrator, asking that the $65 billion in broadband funding included in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act be prioritized for broadband affordability and digital inclusion.
The committee’s majority party also asked NTIA Administrator Alan Davidson to use the funds from the bill – colloquially referred to as the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law – to future-proof the Federal broadband investment, as well as focus on competition and community engagement in addition to its other priorities.
“We believe the success of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law’s broadband programs will require an emphasis on affordability, digital inclusion, high-capacity networks, competition, and community engagement,” the lawmakers wrote. “To that end, we wanted to share our priorities as you work to establish these important programs that will help us ensure all Americans have access to high-speed affordable broadband.”
The bill included a Broadband Access, Equity, and Deployment (BEAD) program, funded at $42.45 billion. The bill also includes billions in funding for Digital Equity grants, a tribal broadband connectivity fund, middle-mile broadband infrastructure deployment, along with rural telemedicine, distance learning, and broadband programs.
The BEAD program represents the bill’s most ambitious shot at closing the digital divide and will provide broadband access grants for underserved or unserved communities. Because of this, lawmakers asked Davidson to ensure that the low-cost broadband offering requirement in the program be rolled out as “widely available as feasible.”
“It is well documented that affordability is a major barrier to broadband access for many people,” they wrote. “Congress had this in mind when it created both the Affordability Connectivity Program and the low-cost offering requirement in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. In implementing the BEAD program, NTIA can ensure that as many people as possible benefit from these Congressional priorities.”
Lawmakers are also seeking to ensure that NTIA designated “digital inclusion” – a definition included in the Digital Equity grant program in the bill – a “permissible” use of BEAD funding. As far as future-proofing investments, lawmakers wrote that NTIA should prioritize investing in fiber networks and others that will be scalable to meet future consumer speed needs.
The committee’s majority also asked that NTIA use broadband funding to promote competition among providers, writing “where possible, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law funding should promote open access networks to increase competition and consumer choice in broadband access providers.” Finally, they wrote that NTIA should make sure that states have the resources they need to “foster meaningful community engagement,” and states should include key stakeholders in the planning processes.