The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NITA) is seeking public comment on a grant program that will invest $1.5 billion to support the deployment of open, interoperable, and standards-based radio access networks (RAN) for wireless communications, according to a Dec. 13 Federal Register notice.

The Public Wireless Supply Chain Innovation Fund, which flows from the CHIPS and Science Act of 2022, is one of the latest efforts to move the nation away from reliance on Chinese companies that provide wireless 5G networking, like Huawei.

“The highly consolidated global market for wireless equipment creates serious risks for both consumers and U.S. companies,” NTIA Administrator Alan Davidson said.

He continued, “Our $1.5 billion fund will jumpstart innovation in the industry and open it up to a more diverse set of suppliers. We expect the increase in competition to lead to more secure, resilient, and cost-effective networks.”

According to the notice, the grant program will invest the money over 10 years to accelerate the development and deployment of open and interoperable, standards-based RAN.

The agency hopes the program will “unlock” opportunities for U.S. companies, particularly small and medium enterprises, to compete in a market historically dominated by a few foreign suppliers – including high-risk suppliers that raise security concerns.

“With the passage of the CHIPS and Science Act of 2022, Congress has taken a proactive step in driving the adoption of open, interoperable, and standards-based RAN and supporting a more competitive and diverse telecommunications supply chain,” the Federal Register notice reads.

“This historic $1.5 billion investment aims to support U.S. leadership in the global telecommunications ecosystem, foster competition, lower costs for consumers and network operators, and strengthen our supply chain,” it says.

NTIA is seeking feedback from stakeholders on numerous questions regarding implementation of the program. More specifically, the agency wants to know practical solutions to the key challenges to adoption of open and interoperable, standards-based RAN; recommendations for the kinds of projects that the fund should support; and the kinds of criteria that should inform how the grants are awarded.

Public comments will close on Jan. 27, 2023, shortly after NTIA holds a virtual listening session on Jan 24.

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Cate Burgan
Cate Burgan
Cate Burgan is a MeriTalk Senior Technology Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.