TR Daily House Approves Change in ReConnect Eligibility in 2022 Approps Bill
Tuesday, July 27, 2021

House Approves Change in ReConnect Eligibility in 2022 Approps Bill

At TR Daily’s news deadline, the House raised the ceiling on existing broadband speeds for areas eligible for the Agriculture Department’s ReConnect Program.

The action came during debate of proposed amendments to HR 4502, an appropriations "minibus" package of seven appropriations bills for fiscal 2022, including funding for Agriculture, rural development, and related agencies, with funding for the broadband and telecom loan and grant programs administered by the Rural Utilities Service; and financial services and general government, with funding for the FCC and the Federal Trade Commission.

Earlier in the day the House voted 218-207 to approve the House Rules Committee measure (H.Res. 555) which established the procedural terms for consideration of the minibus and designated which amendments would be in order on the floor, including one that would increase FCC funding by $1 million to support broadband mapping and one that would expand the areas eligible for support under the Agriculture Department’s ReConnect program by including areas that lack sufficient access to broadband at speeds of 25 "megabytes" per second downstream—broadband speeds are normally measured in bits per second, not bytes per second—and 3 Mbps upstream, rather than those that lack sufficient access to 10 Mbps/1 Mbps upstream.

The latter amendment was part of more than 50 amendments adopted en bloc by a voice vote.

Objections from Republicans to the underlying bill, which they continued to raise during the debate over amendments, focused on what they viewed as excessive overall spending levels and insufficient funding for defense, as well as the omission of "Hyde amendment" language prohibiting the use of federal funding to pay for abortions.

The substitute version of HR 4502 proposed for consideration on the floor today would give the FCC $387,950,000 in budget authority for FY 2022, an increase of $13,950,000 from the level appropriated in FY 2021 (TR Daily, June 24). All of the funds would be generated from regulatory fees.

The bill would bar the FCC from expending funds on a 2004 recommendation of the Federal-State Joint Board on Universal Service that high-cost universal service support be limited to primary lines (TR Daily, Feb. 27, 2004). It would also bar changes to certain FCC rules relating to high-cost support for competitive ETCs (eligible telecommunications carriers) before and after the 5G Fund Phase I auction.

The FTC’s budget would total $389,800,000, which would be a hike of $38,800,000 over the FY 2021 level. Of the total, $138 million would come from Hart-Scott-Rodino filing fees, and $20 million would come from Do Not Call fees.

HR 4502 would provide $18.750 million to establish the new national cyber director’s office.

It would provide $690 million for 5% rural telecommunications loans, cost of money rural telecommunications loans, and for rural telecom loans made pursuant to section 306 of the Rural Electrification Act; $2.07 million for direct cost-of-money rural telecom loans made pursuant to section 305(d)(2) of the Act; $25 million for the cost of modifications for direct rural telecom loans; $11.869 million for the principal amount of broadband telecommunication loans; $60 million for rural telemedicine and distance learning grants; $1.772 million for cost of direct broadband loans; and $35 million for the Community Connect Grant Program.

The bill would also provide $787 million for the ReConnect broadband loan and grant pilot program, with $36.6 million set aside for specified Community Project Funding projects.

The Biden administration issued a statement "strongly" supporting House passage of HR 4502, noting, among other things, its appreciation of the $137 million increase over the administration’s budget request for the ReConnect Program and its inclusion of refinancing budget authority for telecommunication loans equal to the budget request, which "would help rural providers deploy future-proof technology, while lowering the cost for consumers."

The administration also said it appreciated the bill’s "support for the FTC at the FY 2022 Budget request level of $390 million, which would support antitrust investigations and consumer protections." —Lynn Stanton, [email protected]

MainStory: FederalNews Congress FCC FTC BroadbandDeployment MergersAntitrust

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