TR Daily Administration Budget Supports Rural Broadband Pilot, Infrastructure
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Monday, March 11, 2019

Administration Budget Supports Rural Broadband Pilot, Infrastructure

The Trump administration released a high-level fiscal year 2020 budget today that “supports continued implementation” of the e-Connectivity pilot program — also known as the ReConnect Program — as well as $690 million for telecommunications loans by the Department of Agriculture. The administration’s budget also renewed its call for a major infrastructure initiative, urging Congress to pass legislation that “generates” at least $1 trillion in infrastructure investment.

Last year, the administration proposed $200 billion in federal infrastructure funding that it said could be leveraged to produce $1.5 trillion in overall investment, when state, local, and private sector spending is included (TR Daily, Feb. 12, 2018). Senate and House Democrats responded with proposals for $1 trillion in funding from the federal budget for infrastructure, including $40 billion designated specifically for broadband in the Senate version (TR Daily, Feb. 8 and March 7, 2018). Neither the administration’s nor the Democrats’ proposals were enacted.

The proposal budget for FY 2020, which begins Oct. 1, would provide $200 billion for infrastructure priorities other than the long-term surface transportation reauthorization, which is addressed separately. Of the $200 billion, $10 billion would be set aside “to establish a Federal Capital Revolving Fund to support more cost-effective Federal investment in buildings and other property.”

The administration emphasized water infrastructure as a target for the remaining $190 billion in infrastructure funding, but it said that it believes “a portion” of the remainder “should promote visionary projects and technologies that can strengthen our economic competitiveness, including 5G wireless communications, rural broadband, advanced manufacturing, and artificial intelligence.”

During a call with reporters this morning, a senior administration official said that the administration sees the $200 billion being used for “infrastructure viewed broadly,” including broadband funding.

“We will provide less specifics this year than we have in the past. In part because … we really do want to work with Congress on this and we are open to how they construct a package that the president could sign. But it is not just surface transportation,” he said. “This is the same $200 billion that we have put forward in past budgets, that levered up to a trillion dollars.”

House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Peter DeFazio (D., Ore.) criticized the budget release for not doing enough with respect to infrastructure. “For starters, the president is recycling his already-rejected proposal to somehow turn $200 billion of federal investment into $1 trillion for badly-needed projects,” Chairman DeFazio said. He added, “In effect, the Trump budget would shirk federal responsibility when it comes to our nation’s infrastructure, putting a massive burden on cash-strapped states and local communities and doing nothing to meaningfully address our nation’s infrastructure needs. When it comes to infrastructure investment, it looks like Congress is going to have to do the heavy lifting.”

The administration today did not release supporting documents for its FY 2020 budget, such as the appendix, which includes detailed budget and policy proposals for departments and agencies, including the FCC, which did not release its detailed annual budget proposal today. The senior administration official told reporters that the supporting materials, including the appendix, would be released next week.

As a result, only high-level budget proposals were generally available today.

However, a chart on expected FY 2020 budget revenues per agency included expected revenues from FCC activities.

The chart said the FCC could generate revenues of $3.95 billion through 2029 with the enactment of a spectrum license user fee.

The Trump administration – and Democratic and Republican administrations before it – has previously proposed authorizing the FCC to impose user fees on unauctioned spectrum licenses. The proposal has never gone anywhere – largely due to its high-profile opposition.

“NAB vigorously opposes the idea of spectrum fees on broadcasters. This is an unwarranted proposal that threatens the ability of local television stations to serve our tens of millions of viewers,” Dennis Wharton, executive vice president-communications for the National Association of Broadcasters, said today.

The administration’s budget chart also said that auctioning of spectrum below 6 gigahertz is expected to generate revenues of $300 million each in 2020 and 2021 and $6 billion in 2029.

Meanwhile, a summary of the Commerce Department’s budget says that it “supports the application of innovative spectrum access techniques, spectrum sharing technologies, and spectrum leasing options to enable smarter and more efficient ways to leverage the Nation’s valuable and finite spectrum resources. As part of the Administration’s commitment to the Heartland, the Budget funds broadband mapping work to support ongoing efforts to increase the availability of affordable, reliable, and modern high-speed internet access in rural and underserved communities.”

The administration’s proposed spending plan would also provide substantial support to the Defense Department’s cyber efforts.

“The budget continues to place a high priority on cybersecurity and cyber operations by requesting more than $9.6 billion in 2020 to advance DoD’s three primary cyber missions: safeguarding DoD’s networks, information, and systems; supporting military commander objectives; and defending the nation,” the budget blueprint says.

“This investment provides the resources necessary to grow the capacity of U.S. military cyber forces (including the recently elevated United States Cyber Command), invest in the cyber workforce, and continue to maintain the highest cybersecurity standards at DoD,” it says.

The Department of Energy would receive $156 million for the new Office of Cybersecurity, Energy Security, and Emergency Response (TR Daily, Feb. 14, 2018). “This funding would support early-stage R&D activities that improve cybersecurity and resilience to enable the private sector to harden and evolve critical infrastructure, including protecting critical infrastructure from both natural and man-made events,” the budget proposal says.

The Department of Homeland Security would receive more than $1 billion for cybersecurity programs. “These resources would increase the number of DHS-led network risk assessments from 473 to 684 – including assessments of state and local electoral systems – as well as for additional tools and services, such as the EINSTEIN and the continuous diagnostics and mitigation programs, to reduce the cybersecurity risk to federal information technology networks,” it says. EINSTEIN is the federal government’s network-intrusion detection system.

For the Treasury Department, “the budget requests $13 million for the Office of Critical Infrastructure Protection and Compliance Policy to enhance the department’s capacity to identify and remediate new vulnerabilities before they can be exploited,” the White House proposal says. “The U.S. financial services sector faces a range of cybersecurity vulnerabilities and physical hazards. The nation’s adversaries have grown in technical capability, and their attacks have increased in sophistication.”

The Federal Trade Commission, which released its budget request today, is seeking $312.3 million for FY 2020, compared with the $309.7 million budget that Congress approved for FY 2019. Of the total for FY 2020, $136 million would come from premerger filing fees and $15 million would come from Do Not Call Registry fees.- Paul Kirby, [email protected]; Lynn Stanton, [email protected]; and Tom Leithauser, [email protected]

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