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BTOP Gets Limited Waiver On 'Buy American' Provision

The Secretary of Commerce has granted broadband buildouts a limited waiver of the "Buy American" provisions in the economic stimulus bill.

That came the same day that the government plans to announce the guidelines for broadband network builders to apply for the $7.2 billion in BTOP (Broadband Technology Opportunities Program) money set aside in the economic stimulus package to help deploy broadband to un-served and underserved areas.

The stimulus package stipulated that none of its $700 billion-plus funds "may be used for a project for the construction, alteration, maintenance, or repair of a public building or public work unless all of the iron, steel, and manufactured goods used in the project are produced in the United States.''

But Commerce Secretary Gary Locke determined that if it were applied to the broadband buildout it would not be in the public interest. That is chiefly because it would be a practical impossibility to require applicants to certify that each component in a network, from switchers to routers to transport, to access to customer-premises equipment, to billing systems and operations, were all made in America, particularly since many of them aren't made in America.

Commerce also concluded that requiring case-by-case waivers rather than the limited blanket waiver would be a sufficient burden on applicants to discourage their participation and threaten the success of the program.

The waiver is limited because it does not apply to fiber optic or coaxial cables, cell towers and other "facilities" that are produced in sufficiently reasonable quantities in the U.S., though case-by-case waivers can still be applied for.