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Tennessee lawmakers urge NTIA to reconsider BEAD fiber preference

Republican Tennessee Senators Marsha Blackburn and Bill Hagerty wrote to Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo and NTIA Administrator Alan Davidson and stressed that broadband deployment grants should be technology neutral. The message is consistent with what NATE: the Communications Infrastructure Contractors Association, the Wireless Infrastructure Association, Competitive Carriers Association and the Wireless Internet Service Providers Association have been advocating for.

NTIA recently began accepting applications for the Infrastructure Law’s Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment program. Its language says NTIA will prioritize fiber projects, Inside Towers reported. “To support this decision, NTIA states that only fiber technology can achieve the scalability needed to meet the evolving needs of consumers over time, as well as to ‘support the deployment of 5G, successor wireless technologies, and other advanced services,’” write Blackburn and Hagerty in their letter.

They say the prioritization of fiber “at the expense of other technologies is concerning for several reasons,” noting that it contradicts the language in the Infrastructure Law. That language, say the Senators, directed NTIA to give priority to projects based on speed, latency, reliability, quality of service, and the expected timeliness of project completion.

“Nothing in the text suggests that Congress intended for NTIA to prefer fiber at the expense of fixed wireless, mobile wireless, satellite or other viable technologies,” note Blackburn and Hagerty. The language calls on NTIA to prioritize areas unserved by broadband at speeds of 25 Mbps/3 Mbps “which non-fiber technologies can easily achieve,” according to the lawmakers.

They also stress that technology neutrality has been the basis for funding distributed by the FCC. In the RDOF auction, for example, companies with winning bids offered many different technologies, “not just fiber,” according to Blackburn and Hagerty, yet write that NTIA chose to diverge from this approach “on its own accord and with little to no explanation.”

They urged NTIA to reconsider, saying that a fiber-first rule makes no sense for much of rural America. In Tennessee, for example, they cite large areas risk being left unserved because of terrain that is not conducive to fiber. Inside Towers

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