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This week, The Virginia-Pilot published a guest column written by ATR’s Federal Affairs Manager for Telecommunications, James Erwin. 

The op-ed draws on Erwin’s personal experience as a Senate staffer who helped write the Infrastructure law to argue that the National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s attempt to withhold Viriginia’s broadband grants unless they fix prices for internet service is illegal.   

NTIA is pushing rate regulation on broadband internet service by pressuring states, most notably Virginia, to impose a $30 per month price mandate to participate in the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) program.  

The article begins by stating: 

Virginia was promised $1.5 billion to expand rural broadband in the Infrastructure Law, but DC bureaucrats refuse to hand over the money until the Commonwealth embraces their illegal price-fixing scheme. 

NTIA does not have the authority to impose the $30 per price mandate as it is unlawful under the infrastructure law. Erwin explains that: 

Recognizing this, Congress included a provision in the final infrastructure law that prohibited NTIA from regulating rates for broadband: “Nothing in this title may be construed to authorize the Assistant Secretary or the National Telecommunications and Information Administration to regulate the rates charged for broadband service.” Put simply, it is illegal for NTIA to set rates for broadband service, nationally or locally. NTIA bureaucrats are nonetheless trying to bully states to do it for them by refusing to release funds unless states fix the price at $30 per month. 

Virginia should have already had its BEAD program approved, but NTIA is withholding the BEAD funds as highlighted by Erwin: 

Which brings us back to Virginia. The Old Dominion’s BEAD plan has now been rejected multiple times for seeking to avoid this trap. As the Virginia Broadband Office director noted in a December 6, 2023, letter, NTIA rejected the Commonwealth’s application because “the low-cost option must be established in the Initial proposal as an exact price or formula.” This despite NTIA Administrator Alan Davidson’s promise that his agency would not require rate regulation at a December 5, 2023, hearing before the House Communications and Technology Subcommittee. By rejecting all applications the commonwealth has submitted until the desired price point is included, NTIA holds federal BEAD dollars hostage until state governments price fix for them. 

Congress should hold NTIA accountable for its bureaucratic overreach and demand the release of BEAD funds to Virginia. The Infrastructure Law explicitly prohibited rate regulation by NTIA, making the agency’s actions unlawful and unhelpful in connecting unserved areas. 

Read the full op-ed here