‘Buy America’ Waivers Possible, But Very Difficult to Obtain, Says NTIA Chief

WASHINGTON, March 16, 2023 – The bipartisan infrastructure law is a broadband connectivity program as well as “an opportunity for us to be promoting U.S. jobs and promoting manufacturing capability,” said the head of the federal agency charged with implementation.

Although “there will be instances” where “Buy America” rules will be waived, “we will be looking very carefully for where” such waivers are allowed, said Alan Davidson, head of the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration.

Speaking at a Verizon-hosted event here on Wednesday, Davidson cited President Biden’s inclusion of reference to the Buy America regulations in the State of the Union Address on February 7, a marquee forum signaling the importance of the rules to the administration.

“The bar has been set high: Not impossibly high, but it is high,” Davidson said.

Read the Broadband Breakfast special report: What to Know About Build America, Buy America Provisions in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. The report is available for Breakfast Club members.

In a statement by NTIA on February 9, two days after the State of the Union, the agency said that broadband projects funded from its $42.5 billion Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment program will “have time” to get “made in America” products

There is widespread concern, raised during in a Broadband Breakfast event on February 8 and in other forums, that the electronic components in fiber-optic equipment are simply not available from American-made manufacturers. The fiber cables themselves, by contrast, are increasingly being manufactured in America.

President Biden, Davidson continued, “fully expects that we will source all of our materials and all of our work in the U.S. Fiber-optic cables are a good example of this.” He cited fiber manufacturer Corning as an example of announcing a new manufacturing facility in Arizona.

“We are hoping and expecting other announcements like that in the near future,” he said.

‘A startup in government’

In a conversation with Kathleen Grillo, Verizon’s senior vice president of public policy, Davidson said that $1.7 billion had already been awarded to state broadband offices, who are working to prepare broadband plans as part of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act’s $42.5 billion BEAD program.

He highlighted the significance of the June 30, 2023, deadline by which the agency will announce funding awards to states.

“Some states are very sophisticated; others are just standing up their broadband offices now,” he said.

Asked to define the missions and values that NTIA is bringing to its broadband implementation, Davidson cited excellence, integrity and kindness.

The program, he said, “is like a startup in government.”



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