Republicans Question NTIA’s Stance on Broadband Rate Regulation

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A growing number of House Republicans are requesting confirmation from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) on its stance on initial BEAD proposals that include rate regulation measures. These concerns were articulated in a letter, sent on December 15, to Assistant Secretary at the NTIA, Alan Davidson. The letter highlighted perceived issues with Davidson’s testimony on December 5 at the House Subcommittee on Communications and Technology, labeling it as “extremely problematic”.

The main contention was the apprehension that the NTIA would permit state plans to regulate broadband rates. The letter clarified rate regulation as any attempt at supervising the rates of broadband services, including setting, freezing, or introducing caps on rates. Therefore, the immediate argument is whether Davidson’s earlier testimony suggests the NTIA’s BEAD (Broadband, Equity, Access, and Deployment) Program may be infringing on directives stipulated by the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA).

According to the Republicans, the IIJA, through the creation of the BEAD Program, disallows the Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Communications and Information and the NTIA from taking charge of the rates imposed for broadband service. As endorsed by Congress during their debate, this means the NTIA and the Assistant Secretary leading it cannot authorize or permit rate regulation of broadband services under the state broadband grant program.

Moreover, the letter raised worry that some states have proposed plans to the NTIA which include some form of rate control. Citing an instance, it said California would reward applicants willing to offer a 1 Gbps service at $50 per month to BEAD funded locations through Priority Broadband Projects, or 100/20 Mbps at $30 per month for other projects.

Simultaneously, as the Republicans penned their letter to the NTIA, Louisiana emerged as the first state to have its initial plan for the BEAD program endorsed by the NTIA. This is one of 56 states and territories vying for their share of the generous $42.45 billion in state grants facilitated for the BEAD program.

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