Investment and Flexibility in Broadband Manufacturing Essential for BEAD Success

Rhonda Johnson, Executive Vice President, Federal Regulatory Relations, AT&T
August 3, 2023
Broadband Access and Affordability

Investment and Flexibility in Broadband Manufacturing Essential for BEAD Success

Just over a month ago, the NTIA allocated funds for the Broadband Equity, Access & Deployment (BEAD) Program to every state. As we’ve noted before, this is a jump start to unprecedented broadband investment to unserved and underserved communities across the U.S. The BEAD Program was enacted as part of the Infrastructure Investment & Jobs Act (IIJA), which included the “Build America, Buy America Act” that requires BEAD Program funding recipients to use U.S.-manufactured products that are at least 55% U.S.-sourced materials to deploy broadband and help build the U.S. supply chain.

Working together with U.S. suppliers  

For that to happen, we need expanded sourcing options in the U.S. Today, we stood next to our industry partners at Nokia when they announced plans to partner with Sanmina to open a manufacturing facility in Kenosha, Wisconsin. This will be the first to domestically manufacture broadband equipment for the BEAD program. This facility will manufacture optical line terminals (OLTs), which are essential to the performance of a broadband network connection. These OLTs will be used for BEAD projects and help the industry comply with the Build America, Buy America U.S-based manufacturing requirements.

Similarly, last year we expanded our collaboration with Corning – the nation’s largest manufacturer of fiber optic cables and another trusted U.S. supplier. This partnership, along with Corning’s $150 million investment in optical cable manufacturing facilities in Arizona and North Carolina, will be critical for the expansion of broadband infrastructure to help millions of Americans connect to new opportunities and further close the digital divide.

These are just a few examples of the many suppliers we work with across the nation.

Flexibility is key to timely deployment

We’re proud of the progress to date and look forward to continuing to bring high-speed internet to more Americans. But, while there are strong U.S. supply chain partners like Corning and Nokia, the reality is that some broadband products are not currently made in the U.S. or would require significant time and costs to begin manufacturing domestically. In light of this, we look forward to the Build America, Buy America forthcoming guidance from the NTIA that will be critical to helping achieve the public and private sectors’ shared goal to bring broadband to every home across America.

This guidance will also aid in deployment decisions and provide clarity on how providers should approach their collaboration with suppliers. At AT&T, we’re working closely with our suppliers and encouraging them to identity if and where it may make sense to seek flexibility from the government. We ask the Administration and agencies overseeing federal broadband deployment programs to approach this issue with this question in mind: How can we get more Americans online as quickly as possible?

The Bottom Line:

Over the past several years, our collaborations with local leaders and industry partners have brought the benefits of broadband to so many across the country, and we are excited to continue the momentum and bring broadband to more Americans through future BEAD deployments.

The anticipated guidance on Build America, Buy America compliance requirements, will enable suppliers and providers to manufacture and deploy broadband efficiently which will help reach our shared goal to give all Americans the opportunity to participate in today’s economy and online world.