The House today passed two packages of legislation (HR 1158 and HR 1865) that include 12 fiscal year 2020 appropriations bills that would fund the government through Sept. 30, the end of the FY 2020 fiscal year. The Senate plans to take up the legislation this week.
Under the legislation, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration would get $40.4 million for FY 2020, a $941,000 hike over the FY 2019 enacted level.
“Funds are included to enhance the National Broadband Map, to help provide better broadband access for underserved communities which will allow wider national participation and economic growth, and allow NTIA to perform cutting edge telecommunications research and engineering,” according to a news release.
The FCC would have a spending level of $339 million. The bill would set a $132.5 million level for the agency’s auctions program. All of the FCC’s funds come from regulatory fees that it imposes. The FCC received $339 million in FY 2019 but it asked for $335.6 million for FY 2020.
Appropriations for the U.S. Department of Agriculture include $550 million for the ReConnect Pilot program, $50 million for distance learning and telemedicine grants, and $35 million for the Community Connect program, according to a summary of the measure. The legislation also includes $690 million for various types of rural telecom loans and $11.179 million for the principal amount for broadband telecom loans.
Responding to the House passage of the appropriations legislation, NTCA Chief Executive Officer Shirley Bloomfield said, “NTCA appreciates the many important provisions for rural broadband providers included in this comprehensive legislation, and we applaud its passage by the House.”
In particular, she cited additional funding for the Agriculture Department’s ReConnect program and the satellite television retransmission provisions that would establish “good faith protections for video buying groups used by smaller rural providers. We are hopeful, however, that this will not be the end of the discussion about additional measures needed to address the adverse effects of decades-old laws that skew the video marketplace and ultimately undermine consumer choice.”
Ms. Bloomfield also praised provisions of benefit to rural businesses and cooperatives, such as the SECURE Act’s pension provisions aimed at small businesses like NTCA’s rural carrier members; the repeal of the “Cadillac Tax” on higher-value healthcare benefits provided to employees, which she said hits rural companies hard because health care costs are often more expensive in rural areas; and the RURAL Act provisions, which would allow NTCA’s telecom cooperative members “to leverage government grant programs without disruption to their cooperative tax status.”
Regarding the cable and satellite TV billing transparency provisions in the legislation, Jonathan Schwantes, senior policy counsel for Consumer Reports, said, “Cable companies shouldn’t be allowed to get away with advertising low prices while hiding extra fees in the fine print that cost consumers hundreds of dollars more each year. Consumers deserve to know exactly how much they’ll end up paying before they sign up for a pay-TV package. This legislation will put an end to bait and switch pricing and help consumers avoid getting stung by sneaky fees.”
Rep. Mike Quigley (D., Ill.), chairman of the House Appropriations Committee’s financial services and general government subcommittee, noted that the legislation includes funding increases for the Federal Trade Commission for various inspector general offices that deal with financial matters.
The legislation would appropriate $331 million for FTC salaries and expenses and authorize the FTC’s use of up to $141 million of off-setting fees collected under the Harts-Scott-Rodino Antitrust Improvements Act and up to $18 million in off-setting fees collected under the Telemarketing and Consumer Fraud and Abuse Prevention Act.
In the Federal Emergency Management Agency budget, the approps package also would include $560 million for State Homeland Security grants and $665 million for Urban Area Security Initiative grants. —Paul Kirby, [email protected]; Lynn Stanton, [email protected]
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