ISPs Want Waiver of 'Buy American' Infrastructure Provision

Capitol Hill
(Image credit: Gary Arlen)

Cable and telco broadband operators have joined with computer companies and others to ask that they be allowed to "buy (less) American" when they are using the monies provided for in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) to build out networks.

In a letter to the heads of the Secretaries of Agriculture, Commerce and Transportation, NCTA-the Internet & Television Association, USTelecom, CTIA and others said the Buy American requirements for broadband spending could delay closing the digital divide.

"Americans without access to broadband cannot wait for a domestic supply chain to be developed out of whole cloth.... We believe that a limited, programmatic waiver is a necessary precondition to effective and efficient investment in broadband," they said.

Also: White House Issues Guide to Broadband Infrastructure Billions

While they agreed with the long-term goal of promoting more U.S. production, in the short term they said a 55% U.S. content requirement, as the IIJA mandates, does not reflect the current reality of the global supply chain, which includes "switching, routing, transport, access, operations systems, and customer premises/end user equipment and devices," each with hundreds of components with their own supply chains sourced from "trusted vendors and suppliers" around the world.

In fact, they went so far as to say that "no combination of network products would meet the IIJA’s content requirements from end-to-end."

Instead, they said, a limited waiver acknowledges what can be done in the real world. They also point to the precedent of the 2009 American Recovery Act, which imposed similar "buy American" broadband build-out provisions, but at the behest of the Agriculture and Commerce Departments, granted a "buy American" waiver. It also pointed to a similar waiver that Congress built into the Federal Acquisition Regulations. ■

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.