Broadband groups seek waiver from IIJA ‘Buy American’ requirements

A coalition of prominent fixed and wireless broadband groups asked the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) to grant operators a waiver from a Buy American provision in the recently passed infrastructure bill, arguing the requirement is nearly impossible to meet.

Passed in November 2021, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) allocated a total of $65 billion for broadband, much of which is set to be administered by the NTIA. The act specifies a preference that infrastructure funding go toward programs which use products and materials made in the USA. It requires products and materials to contain at least 55% domestic content to be considered a product of the United States.

The NTIA last month asked for input on the design of several broadband grant programs through which IIJA funding will flow. Among other things, it sought feedback on what impact the Buy American requirement would have on supply chain and workforce challenges and the speed at which broadband can be deployed.

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Broadband groups USTelecom, NCTA – The Internet and Television Association, NTCA – The Rural Broadband Association, the Telecommunications Industry Association, CTIA, the Competitive Carriers Association, and TechNet answered the call.

In a joint letter to NTIA, the groups argued a waiver from the Buy American rule for information communication technology products is “a necessary precondition to effective and efficient investment in broadband.”

They claimed the 55% content threshold “does not reflect the realities of the global ICT supply chain” and while “a few individual network elements might meet the 55% domestic content threshold they are extremely limited in number, and it appears that no combination of network products would meet the IIJA’s content requirements from end-to-end.”

The groups noted NTIA and other agencies previously granted waivers for a similar requirement which was included in the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

“Americans without access to broadband cannot wait for a domestic supply chain to be developed out of whole cloth, and the federal government has a clear path forward to ensure the success of the President’s infrastructure agenda by instituting a waiver,” they concluded.

NTIA’s comment window will remain open until 5 pm ET on February 4.