More than a dozen U.S. Senators signed on to a letter asking Department of Commerce head Gina Raimondo to revise the agency’s rules for a $42.5 billion broadband funding program, arguing guidelines released earlier this year deviated from Congress’ intent.

At issue are rules the Department released for the Broadband, Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) program in May. The missive, signed by 13 Republican senators, warned “Certain provisions go beyond the authority granted to NTIA and will discourage or deter broad provider participation.” The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) is a division of the Commerce Department and has been tasked with distributing BEAD funds.

Specifically, the Senators pressed for changes to provisions around rate regulation, technology preference, provider preference, workforce requirements, middle mile deployments and the application review process.

While the law which allocated BEAD funding prohibited rate regulation, the Senators argued the funding rules “open the door to rate regulation by imposing several requirements not included in the law.” These include the suggestion of a $30 price point for low-cost broadband options, which the Senators claimed comes across as “an attempt to pressure Eligible Entities to set rates deemed appropriate by NTIA.”

They also blasted the Commerce Department for naming fiber deployments as a priority, arguing that preference doesn’t follow the letter of the law. “The IIJA states that any provider that can reliably provide 100/20 Mbps is qualified to participate,” the Senators wrote. “Never in the legislation did Congress stipulate that one technology was able to meet these needs above any other.  Fiber, fixed wireless and cable providers have all demonstrated an ability to reliably serve customers at the 100/20 Mbps required speed.”

The legislators also took issue with the nine-step process the Department laid out for states looking to secure BEAD funding. Rather than providing a clear roadmap for interested parties to follow, this structure “is likely to mire State broadband offices in excessive bureaucracy and delay connecting unserved and underserved Americans,” they claimed. 

While no deadline for the requested changes was given, the Senators said they hoped the Department would “expeditiously publish revisions and clarifications” to the BEAD guidelines

This isn’t the first time Congress has called the BEAD rules into question. In June, the Senate Commerce Committee raised similar concerns about the program’s guidelines around pricing, labor and technology. The same month, both Senators from Tennessee wrote to the NTIA urging it to change course on its prioritization of fiber projects. Neither of those two Senators signed the letter to Raimondo.

As of last month, all 50 states had signed on to take part in the BEAD program. 


The first line of this story has been amended to reflect the correct number of legislators who signed on to the letter.