The Obama administration was supposed to be one of a heavy regulatory hand, but in yet another move showing its flexibility to help grease the wheels of industry, the federal government is lifting regulations. In this case I’m talking about the Rural Utilities Service’s (RUS) recent move to do away with its official List of Materials. Traditionally, as you probably know, the USDA’s RUS department maintained a list of gear that telecommunications network builders had to work from in their efforts to create RUS-funded networks. (The RUS Broadband Initiatives Program, better known as BIP, was an exception to that rule.)
In any case, that’s all gone now. On May 23 RUS Administer Jonathan Adelstein formally announced that the organization was doing away with the list of materials, effective immediately. While the list was “a very useful tool in assuring product quality and reliability,” Adelstein wrote in an open letter, it was expensive for RUS to maintain and no longer made sense in light of the pace of technological change.
“In this new technology environment, Rural Development must operate efficiently and effectively under current budgetary constraints,” Adelstein said in the letter. “Maintaining the List of Materials, which includes a product by product review, simply cannot be sustained under our current budget and with our limited staff.”
Additionally, he wrote: “Technology has changed dramatically since the start of the Agency’s telecommunications program in 1949. The telecommunications equipment supply sector is very different, and far more complex and diverse, today than it was over 60 years ago. Product life cycles have accelerated, innovations abound and new suppliers have entered the market.”
The news was generally regarded as favorable among the tech set, which saw it as removing one more barrier on the path to broadband expansion. (And while this is clearly a budgetary move first and a barrier-removal effort second, lowering barriers to enable broader broadband availability and adoption is among the Obama administration’s stated policy goals.)
Jesse Ward, a policy analyst for the National Telecommunications Cooperative Association, recently blogged “for rural telcos this will clearly reduce the amount of paperwork required to complete a loan.” But she balanced the upside analysis with this statement: “Unfortunately the industry also relied on the guidance the list provided.”
While they will no longer have the list of materials upfront to guide them in their equipment choices, RUS did say that it will make sure gear selections make sense when it does individual project funding reviews.