NRECA is urging the Biden administration to waive “Build America, Buy America" procurement requirements for a $42 billion rural broadband program to help electric cooperatives meet the initiative's deadlines amid lingering supply shortages.

Infrastructure projects that receive financial assistance from the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment Program must meet Build America, Buy America procurement mandates for iron and steel, manufactured products and construction materials. 

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration proposed a temporary limited waiver of Build America, Buy America for BEAD grant recipients after hundreds of stakeholders reported shortages of domestically sourced construction materials and equipment needed for broadband.

NRECA told NTIA in comments filed Sept. 20 that it supports the proposed waiver as “a reasonable and measured approach to address widespread supply chain issues and the inadequate supply of domestically manufactured equipment facing the communications industry, while also recognizing national security and cybersecurity concerns."

“Electric cooperatives want to deploy broadband networks as quickly as possible and certainly within the timeframes established in the BEAD program. Providing a waiver for certain key equipment will help achieve that goal," said Greg Orlando, NRECA regulatory affairs director.

States received their BEAD allocations on June 30, starting a 180-day clock to get grant programs submitted and approved by NTIA. Internet providers that receive BEAD awards face five-year build deadlines.

“NRECA strongly encourages NTIA to install the waiver ASAP to provide BEAD applicants with clarity and flexibility to build broadband infrastructure that is so badly needed in rural communities," Orlando said.

NRECA is also asking for reduced reporting requirements for co-ops and other small businesses that win BEAD grants.

Instead, NTIA “should confirm that the onus is on equipment manufacturers, rather than awardees, to certify which equipment and materials meet the domestic content requirements and which fall under the BABA waiver," NRECA told the agency.

NTIA is expected to decide on the waiver by the end of the year.