FBA, NTCA press NTIA to fund only ‘competent’ broadband providers

The Fiber Broadband Association (FBA) and NTCA – The Rural Broadband Association argued the U.S. government should focus on funding “competent providers” using “proven” technology when distributing the billions in federal dollars available for broadband. And, as one might expect, they said that means prioritizing fiber.

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) has been charged with distributing $48.2 billion of the $65 billion allocated by Congress for broadband in November. In January, NTIA initiated a public comment process seeking feedback about how it should implement the grant programs through which that money will flow.

FBA and NTCA weighed in via a letter sent to NTIA chief Alan Davidson last week, pressing him to focus on fiber and connecting underserved areas first.

“Many millions of households are stranded on the wrong side of the digital divide. The mission of the BEAD program is to fix that problem, and it cannot be done by adopting half-measures that might only lead to this problem recurring in only a few years’ time,” they wrote. “In a very real sense, the market has spoken: if it is not fiber, it is not broadband.”






The groups also urged Davidson to learn from well-documented issues that plagued the Federal Communications Commission’s Rural Digital Opportunity Fund auction. These included bitter disputes over who should be considered a qualified bidder and whether fixed wireless access and satellite services will be able to meet the needs of consumers.  

LTD Broadband's trials offer a prime example of the RDOF battles. The company was the top winner in the RDOF auction with bids totaling $1.3 billion, but has faced significant questions about its ability to meet its service obligations and had a notoriously tough time securing the necessary state approvals to collect its funding from the FCC.

“Perhaps the most important lesson learned from the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund program is that a premium should be placed on giving funds to competent and financially sound providers that are deploying network technologies that have actually been deployed,” FBA and NTCA concluded. “Not one of our providers would hand over a build and operations to an inexperienced provider using an unproven technology. The NTIA and States should not either.”