NTIA confirms ‘Buy American’ waivers for BEAD funding


Waivers to the ‘Buy American’ requirements placed on Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) Program funding are expected to impact just 10% of total equipment purchases

Back in 2021, as part of Biden administrations mammoth Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, the government also introduced the ‘Build America, Buy America Act’ (BABA), requiring US companies using government subsidies primarily purchase equipment from domestic suppliers.

For the telecoms industry, this means that access to the $42 billion in BEAD programme funding currently being distributed by the US National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) is contingent on being able to find suitable US suppliers. Currently, the rules stipulate that 55% of BEAD funding must be spent with US companies.

However, given the global nature of the telecoms equipment market, such requirements pose a major challenge for operators, both in terms of quality and cost. Various industry bodies quickly petitioned the NTIA to introduce a waiver process, saying that shifting to primarily domestic equipment would be a slow and technically challenging process, potentially causing delays and reducing the BEAD funding’s effectiveness.

By August last year, these overtures were bearing fruit, with the NTIA proposing a waiver process on the ‘Buy American’ obligations for BEAD funding under certain circumstances.

Now, the NTIA has formally launched the related waiver process, saying it expects 90% of the BEAD programme’s $42 billion in funding can still be spent on US-made products.

“At first, many in the industry told us that requiring the ‘Buy America’ domestic manufacturing preference for the BEAD program couldn’t be done–and that a blanket waiver would be necessary,” wrote Will Arbuckle, a senior policy adviser with the NTIA in a blog post. “We worked closely with stakeholders to develop this guidance and we’re pleased to see that manufacturers have stepped up and proved this narrative wrong.”

BABA waivers will be active for the next five years, throughout the period of BEAD funding, and will only apply to certain parts of the network. The fibre cables themselves, for example, as well as optical line terminals, optical line terminal line cards, optic pluggables and optical network terminals, must continue to be majority purchased from the US.

What does this waiver mean for the US broadband industry? Join the sector in discussion at Connected America live in Dallas. Get your tickets now

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