NTIA Chief Alan Davidson: State Broadband Grants Aren't One Size Fits All

Alan Davidson
NTIA administrator Alan Davidson (Image credit: New America Foundation)

Alan Davidson, head of the National Telecommunications & Information Administration, said his agency is taking a customer service approach to overseeing the $42.5 billion Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) initiative going to the states for broadband buildouts.

Each state will have a point person at NTIA to make sure stakeholders know how to apply for the money, Davidson said.

In a “fireside chat” at a Broadband Breakfast for Lunch event in Washington Wednesday, Davidson signaled that while the Biden administration has emphasized fiber, states will have the flexibility to use the money as they choose, as long as it is put toward the goal of getting broadband to the unserved and underserved. “We expect there will be flexibility,” he said. “Different states are going to run programs in different ways.”

The statute gives states that flexibility, he said, so it is not a one-size-fits-all program.

Connect Americans Now, whose members are pushing for universal broadband ASAP, but with the flexibility to look beyond fiber, quickly issued a statement praising Davidson.

“Connect Americans Now (CAN) commends Administrator Davidson for reaffirming NTIA’s commitment to ensuring states and broadband providers have the flexibility needed to maximize the positive impact, reach and cost-effectiveness of deployments targeted at eliminating the digital divide,” CAN executive director Richard Cullen said. “An all-of-the-above approach that prioritizes unserved communities will be vital to NTIA’s mission to make substantial progress toward closing the broadband gap.”

Different groups are calling on the Biden administration to use a technology-neutral approach to handing out billions in broadband funding as a way to make sure those buildouts can handle "differing levels of infrastructure as well as differing topographies and population densities."

In a February letter to Davidson, groups including Connect America Now called on the Biden Administration to use a technology-neutral approach to handing out billions in broadband funding as a way to make sure those buildouts can handle “differing levels of infrastructure, as well as differing topographies and population densities.”

The administration has been signaling that it prefers fiber buildouts. But the groups said everything from wired to wireless to fixed wireless to satellite broadband should have a shot at the money. That, they said, “allows for rapid deployment of broadband network solutions and maximizes the reach of government dollars in building networks and connecting consumers.”

A tech-neutral approach is the best one for several reasons, they argue, including that it gives providers the flexibility to use the most cost-effective approach, will help them deploy rapidly and will cut down on the likelihood of overbuilding incumbent providers, though the administration is anticipating some overbuilding will happen in order to reach the unserved while staying in business. ▪️

Elsewhere on the tech neutrality front, fixed wireless broadband operators represented by WISPA wrote Senate Democratic leaders to tell them that the best way that NTIA can further COngress' broadband deployment goals would be to let states determine what technology to use--obviously including fixed wireless.

"Where more solutions can be brought to the table, better results always prevail," said WISPA. ■

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.