Press Release

Following Welch’s Bipartisan Push, Department of Commerce and NTIA Streamline Broadband Funding for Rural America

Nov 1, 2023

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Following a bipartisan push led by Senator Peter Welch (D-Vt.) and 13 of his Senate colleagues, the Department of Commerce and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) announced today the Broadband, Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) program would be expanded to be more inclusive to rural communities, allowing a waiver to bypass the burdensome Letter of Credit (LOC) requirement that has prevented Internet Service Providers (ISPs) in rural areas, like in Vermont, from participating in the BEAD program. 

“When things aren’t working for the folks at home, it’s up to us to come together and make the collective voices of our constituents heard. I’m encouraged that the NTIA listened to the bipartisan calls from Vermont and states across the country,” said Sen. Welch, member of the Senate Commerce Committee, and Chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee’s Rural Development and Energy Subcommittee. “There’s no reason red tape should get in the way for the small ISPs and public broadband entities, including Vermont’s Communications Union Districts (CUDs), that power the unserved and underserved rural communities we’re fighting to connect. These small fixes are a great step forward and will make big changes in the long-term success of the BEAD program, a priority of many of ours in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. I look forward to continuing to work with the NTIA on behalf of Vermont’s CUDs and ISPs to ensure that every corner of the state is connected.” 

“The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law included historic investments to connect communities across New Mexico to high-speed broadband. I’m glad that Administrator Davidson heeded our call to allow Tribal entities, municipalities, credit unions, and smaller broadband providers to fully participate in connecting families in New Mexico and across the country,” said Senator Luján, Chair of the Subcommittee on Communications, Media, and Broadband. “As Chairman, I have an oversight responsibility to ensure good stewardship of federal funds at NTIA. This waiver authority relies on tested tools to ensure broadband providers are able to complete the work while also providing flexibility to better connect New Mexicans. I remain committed to closing the digital divide for rural and Tribal communities, and I look forward to working with the administration to responsibly implement the BEAD program.” 

As requested by the Senators, the NTIA will allow ISPs to utilize a variety of alternatives to ensure all ISPs, including small and community-centered providers, minority- and women-owned ISPs, nonprofits, and municipalities, can participate in the BEAD program. These alternatives include allowing ISPs to utilize performance bonds, which are used in construction projects, letting any eligible United States credit union issue the LOC, allowing states to reduce obligations if ISPs are meeting term obligations over time, and allowing for an alternative initial LOC or performance bond percentage. 

Established in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the BEAD program is the largest federal broadband investment in United States history, providing more than $42 billion to expand high-speed internet access by funding planning, infrastructure deployment, and adoption programs across the country.  

Senator Welch is a member of Senate Commerce Committee, and Chairs the Senate’s Agriculture’s Committee Subcommittee on Rural Development and Energy.  

Senator Luján is a member of the Senate Commerce Committee and Chairs the Committee’s Subcommittee on Commerce, Media, and Broadband. 

Senator Welch’s bipartisan letter to the Department of Commerce and NTIA was also signed by Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.), Chair of the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Communications, Media, and Broadband, and Sens. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo), Ted Budd (R-N.C.), Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), John Hickenlooper (D-Colo.), Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Gary Peters (D-Mich.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Kyrsten Sinema (I-Ariz.), and Roger Wicker (R-Miss.).