Government Relations Updates
Congress Passes Debt Ceiling and Budget Legislation
On May 31, the House of Representatives passed the Fiscal Responsibility Act of 2023 (H.R. 3746) by a vote of 314 to 117. The bill then passed the Senate on June 1, by a vote of 63 to 36, and was then sent to the president to officially sign it into law. This legislation, the result of weeks of negotiations between House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA-20) and President Joe Biden, provided for raising the federal borrowing limit until January 2, 2025, in order to avoid a default on U.S. debt payments. The bill also includes recissions of funding allocated for COVID-19 related relief efforts as well as budgetary provisions for the next two years.
Approximately $27 billion of unspent funding from the CARES Act, Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act, and the American Rescue Plan Act dedicated to the activities of various federal agencies in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic will be reclaimed by the U.S. Treasury. Roughly $392 million from the Department of Education’s Education Stabilization Fund would be included amongst these recissions, accounting for about 0.1% of the program total.
The budgetary elements of the bill provide for roughly flat federal spending in the upcoming 2024 fiscal year, with increases for defense spending in line with those proposed in President Biden’s original budget plan for 2024. Spending for fiscal year 2025 would be capped at 1% increases for all non-defense related items and a recommendation of continuing that 1% cap for an additional six years, though that recommendation does not come with an enforcement mechanism. Additionally, the bill requires that Congress pass all 12 annual appropriations bills for the next two fiscal years (2024 and 2025) or else face an automatic shift back to the previous year’s spending level plus a 1% cut. Obviously, these constraints will have an impact on federal investments in science, particularly for the National Science Foundation (NSF) as it works to get its new Directorate for Technology, Innovation, and Partnerships (TIP) up and running.
Details of exactly what these funding levels will look like in practice for agencies across the board will be decided in the still-to-be-developed appropriations bills that will come later this year.
Biden Administration Announces New FCC Nominee
On May 22, the White House announced the nomination of Anna M. Gomez for the position of Commissioner at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Gomez currently serves as Senior Advisor for International Information and Communications Policy at the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Cyberspace and Digital Policy. Prior to holding her current position, Gomez spent nearly a decade in private practice as a partner in Wiley Rein LLP’s telecommunications media and technology group. Gomez also has extensive prior service in government, having spent four years as Deputy Administrator at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) and 12 years in various positions at the FCC.
Gomez’s nomination comes alongside the announcement of the re-appointment of two currently serving FCC Commissioners, Geoffrey Starks and Brendan Carr. The Senate will now need to consider all three nominations. Should Gomez be confirmed to the position and Starks and Carr retain their roles, the FCC’s leadership would finally be back up to full strength. This would allow a break in any existing policy deadlocks, enabling the agency to move forward on tackling existing and developing telecommunications issues that require federal guidance and management.
FCC Unveils Updated National Broadband Map
On May 30, Chairwoman Rosenworcel shared an update on the FCC’s National Broadband Map’s Version 2 going live. In November 2022, the FCC relaunched the National Broadband Map, which provides detailed information about broadband availability to homes and businesses across the United States. The National Broadband Map previously relied on much less specific data, considering only if service was available at the census block level, rather than at the level of individual homes and businesses.
With the relaunch, the FCC changed its methodology to provide a much more granular level of detail while simultaneously improving its challenge process to ensure that its data could be continuously improved upon. Version 2 has brought additional clarity, helping to identify an additional 330,000 unserved locations and bringing the national total of unserved locations to 8.3 million.
The release of Version 2 also serves as a very important moment for NTIA’s Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) grant program. Under the law authorizing the program, NTIA is required to utilize the National Broadband Map’s data to determine the funding allocations that will be given to each state based upon the number of unserved and underserved locations in their jurisdiction.
Accurate information is crucial to ensuring that funding is adequately apportioned to meet the needs of each state, and the improvements made to this version of the map are essential to guiding that process. NTIA remains confident that, particularly with this updated data set in hand, it will be able to announce those allocations by June 30.
NTIA Releases Draft BEAD Challenge Process Guidance
On April 25, NTIA released a draft document containing proposed guidance to assist Eligible Entities (state and territorial governments) in crafting challenge processes as part of the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) program. This guidance provides additional clarity on information from the authorizing statute as well as NTIA’s Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO) regarding how local governments, non-profit organizations, or broadband service providers may challenge determinations made by the Eligible Entity as part of their Initial Proposal to NTIA for BEAD funding. NTIA sought comment on this proposed guidance by May 5, and intends to finalize this guidance once public feedback has been considered.
NTIA Requests Feedback on Digital Equity Programs
On March 1, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) posted a Request for Comment (RFC) regarding the Digital Equity Act components of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) of 2021. NTIA sought to get public feedback by May 1, on elements of the $1.44 billion State Digital Equity Capacity Grant Program and the $1.25 billion Competitive Digital Equity Program. Through a series of 24 questions, NTIA sought public feedback on the potential design, rules, and evaluation criteria for both programs. NTIA will utilize submitted comments to aid its staff in shaping these programs over the coming months and will launch a series of virtual public listening sessions to gather additional feedback.
White House Releases Budget Proposal
On March 9, the Biden Administration publicly shared its budget proposal for the 2024 fiscal year. This document provides a blueprint for the Administration’s vision of federal spending levels and priorities for the coming year and serves as a beginning point for negotiations in Congress on the shaping of annual appropriations legislation. The $6.9 trillion plan calls formajor investments in scientific research including almost $21 billion in discretionary funding for executing activities authorized by last year’s passage of the CHIPS and Science Act (Pub. L. 117-167). This would include $1.2 billion for the new Directorate for Technology, Innovation, and Partnerships (TIP) at the National Science Foundation (NSF) as well as $300 million for NSF’s Regional Innovation Engines Program. NSF would also receive $2.4 billion for research infrastructure investments to support the construction and procurement of research facilities and instrumentation across the country. The Department of Energy’s (DOE) Office of Science would also see a massive $680 million (9 percent) increase over the 2023 enacted level of funding to help support the critical work at the national laboratories.
While these numbers are just a proposal, they represent a continued focus on investing in science by the Biden Administration that may prove to be of great benefit to the broader R&E community. With this part of the annual funding cycle complete, the focus now turns to Congress as the various committees of jurisdiction submit their plans for funding the agencies they oversee to the House and Senate Appropriations Committees to draft preliminary legislation.
Administration Withdraws FCC Nominee
On March 30, the Biden Administration formally withdrew the nomination of Gigi Sohn to fill the vacancy on the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Sohn, a former senior staffer at the FCC, was originally nominated by President Biden on October 26, 2021, to take up the Commissioner’s seat left vacant by the departure of Michael O’Rielly on December 11, 2020. Sohn’s nomination languished for a total of 19 months in the Senate, after a renomination this January, as she faced universal opposition from Republican Senators and some skepticism from a handful of Democratic Senators on the Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee. President Biden has yet to announce the nomination of a new candidate for the position, leading to a continuation of the 2-2 vote deadlock between Democratic and Republican appointees on the Commission and the prevention of any major changes to federal policy under the FCC’s jurisdiction.
Bipartisan Tech and Rural Broadband Bills Proposed in U.S. Senate
Throughout January and February, several new and returning pieces of legislation were proposed by bipartisan groups of Senators to address technology and connectivity issues.
Senators Thune (R-SD), Lujan (D-NM), Fischer (R-NE), and Klobuchar (D-MN) introduced the Rural Internet Improvement Act (S. 130), a bill that would streamline the broadband programs operated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and ensure that their funding is targeted at the rural communities most in need of support. This legislation would combine USDA’s existing broadband grant and loan program with the ReConnect program and establish a mandate that only areas in which 90 percent of households are classified as unserved would be eligible for funding. The bill was sent to the Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry on January 30, for consideration.
Senators Klobuchar (D-MN) and Capito (R-WV) reintroduced the Rural Broadband Protection Act (S. 275), which would change the rules used by the FCC for vetting participants in the Universal Service Fund (USF) high-cost programs. This would include requirements that the service providers provide sufficient evidence to the FCC to prove that they possess the technical capabilities to successfully deploy the proposed network to ensure better outcomes through federal investment in these programs. On February 7, the bill was referred to the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation.
Senators Schatz (D-HI) and Thune (R-SD) reintroduced the Internet Platform Accountability and Consumer Transparency (PACT) Act (S. 483). The PACT Act would amend the Communications Decency Act’s Section 230 to require large online platforms and social media companies to establish clear content moderation policies to establish greater accountability for content that is illegal or a violation of the policies of the platforms themselves. Specifically, it would create a requirement for platforms to remove “court-determined illegal content and activity within four days.” Additionally, an exemption would be created for the enforcement of federal civil laws to prevent interference with federal regulatory activity by the Department of Justice, the Federal Trade Commission, or other federal agencies while also enabling state attorneys general to enforce federal civil laws against online platforms. On February 16, the bill was referred to the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation for consideration.
FCC Proposes Changes to Data Breach Reporting
On January 6, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) announced a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) regarding updates to reporting requirements surrounding data breaches. The aim of the new rulemaking process would be to would be to strengthen the existing rules for notifying customers and federal law enforcement of breaches of customer proprietary network information (CPNI). This would include an elimination of the current seven business day mandatory waiting period for notifying customers of a breach and a clarification of the rules governing customer notification of inadvertent breaches, as well as a requirement that the FBI, FCC, and U.S. Secret Service be notified of all reportable breaches.
Subsequent to that announcement, on January 23, the FCC announced the dates for public comments and reply comments related to the NPRM as February 22 and March 24, respectively. The FCC will review all submitted comments and reply comments as part of their rulemaking process on these issues, with notices regarding updates to the status of the process posted in the coming weeks and months.
National AI Research Task Force Submits Final Report
On January 23, the National Artificial Intelligence Research Resource (NAIRR) Task Force submitted its final report to the president and Congress. This report details the findings of the Task Force and provides a roadmap aimed at guiding federal investment in the tools, infrastructure, and policies needed to accelerate U.S. AI research. The Task Force was made up of a diverse group of experts each sharing their perspectives from across the research and education (R&E) community, federal research agencies, and industry and determined that the NAIRR should be established with four measurable goals in mind:
- to spur innovation,
- increase diversity of talent,
- improve capacity, and
- advance trustworthy AI.
Key recommendations include ensuring broad accessibility of tools and data to increase the diversity of AI researchers, a multi-agency governance process for the NAIRR led by the National Science Foundation (NSF), and a focus on using a federated mix of computational and data resources, testbeds, software and testing tools, and user support services via an integrated portal to best address both capacity and capability needs.
The Task Force estimates that achieving the vision and goals of this undertaking will require a budget of $2.6 billion over an initial six-year period and should be rolled out through a four-phase process over that time.
With the final report now in the hands of legislators and policymakers, Congress will set off on carrying out phase one of the process by passing legislation to officially authorize and fund the NAIRR over the coming months.
President Signs Continuing Resolution
On September 30, the president signed a continuing resolution (P.L. 117-180) extending federal funding past the end of the 2022 fiscal year. This legislation provides funding for all federal agencies at 2022 fiscal year levels through December 16. This short-term funding bill does not include any major changes or new policies, though it does include the addition of provisions funding the U.S. military’s ongoing efforts in supporting Ukraine. Congress will have to revisit the issue of federal funding soon after the upcoming midterm elections in order to avoid a government shutdown and ensure that federal operations are funded for the remainder of the 2023 fiscal year.
Bipartisan Bill on Taxing of Broadband Grants Introduced
Senators Mark Warner (D-VA) and Jerry Moran (R-KS), joined by Senators Tim Kaine (D-VA), Roger Wicker (R-MS), Rev. Raphael Warnock (D-GA), and Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), introduced the Broadband Tax Treatment Act (BGTTA) (S. 5021) on September 29. The bill aims to prevent broadband grants made under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) and the American Rescue Plan (ARP) from being considered as taxable income. In a press release accompanying the bill’s introduction, the sponsoring senators shared their concerns that leaving this issue unaddressed would blunt the impact of federal broadband grants by not allowing the full force of the awarded funds to go into the projects they were intended to support.
It is possible that this legislation will not be taken up before the end of the year due to the limited legislative time remaining and may need to be re-introduced when the new Congress is sworn in next year.
Application Window for Middle Mile Program Closes
The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) ceased to accept applications for its new Middle Mile Grant Program on September 30. The agency began accepting applications for the $1 billion program on June 21, 2022. NTIA announced on October 4 that applicants submitted more than 235 applications totaling more than $5.5 billion in funding requests. As the Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO) outlines, the goal is for the review and selection of successful applicants to be completed by February 16, 2023, with start of awards being announced happening no earlier than March 1, 2023.
FCC Announces New Tribal E-Rate Pilot
On October 20, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) announced the formal launch of a new pilot program intended to assist Tribal libraries in applying for broadband funding through the E-Rate program. The pilot program will focus initially on 20 Tribal libraries that are either new to E-Rate or have had trouble applying in the past. The program will provide one-on-one help to cover all aspects of planning and applying for E-Rate, as well as continuing support after the application process. The program may be expanded depending on lessons learned from this initial phase. Applications to participate in the pilot are due by November 18, 2022. Additional information, including how to apply, is available here.
OSTP Director Nomination Advances
On July 27, the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee voted 15-13 to advance the nomination of Dr. Arati Prabhakar, the Biden Administration’s pick to lead the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP).
OSTP has been without a Director since the February 2022 resignation of Dr. Eric Lander following allegations of a toxic work environment. Prabhakar has considerable experience in leading federal agencies with scientific missions, having served as Director of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) from 2012-2017 and the Director of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) from 1993-1997. With the approval of her nomination by the committee vote, Prabhakar now will be considered by a vote of the full Senate for confirmation to this new role.
Internet2 Files Comments with NSF and OSTP
On June 30, Internet2 responded to a Request for Information (RFI) from the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) in order to provide feedback on the release of the National Artificial Intelligence Research Resource (NAIRR) Task Force’s Interim Report. The comments filed by Internet2 focused on the topic of the establishment and sustainment of NAIRR.
While the Interim Report recommends that an effort should be made to implement standard legal agreements for users and resource providers, Internet2 suggested that NAIRR “should work to integrate with existing agreements and technical implementations in place at academic institutions and incorporate any specifically negotiated terms into existing agreements.” In many cases, there are already heavily negotiated agreements in place for cloud services for research and educational agreements that are designed to address institutional requirements as well as state and federal laws and requirements. Additionally, Internet2’s NET+ program and others have negotiated a number of collaborative agreements for cloud services that have been widely adopted. Internet2 shared its experience of the challenges that requirements to enter into new agreements can place on institutions on the administrative, technical, and security fronts. Ultimately, Internet2 recommended that a focus on integration with existing agreements will reduce these impacts and best serve the Task Force’s goal of enabling pathways into AI research.
The Task Force’s final report is expected to be released in December 2022.
Administration Launches “Internet for All” Grant Programs
On May 13, the Administration announced the beginning of its Internet for All initiative, an effort that will invest $45 billion to provide affordable internet access for everyone in the U.S. by the end of the decade. The Internet for All initiative launched with three Notices of Funding Opportunity (NOFOs) for grant programs authorized by the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which became law in November 2021. All three programs are administered by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) at the Department of Commerce.
- The first grant opportunity is the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) Program, which will provide $42.45 billion to expand high-speed internet access in all 50 states as well as Washington, D.C. and the U.S. territories. This funding will be distributed to the states for implementation. State governments will then provide subgrants to local organizations, such as non-profits, public-private partnerships, private companies, public and private utilities, and others. Applications for state and territorial governments opened on May 13, and letters of intent are due on July 18. Additional information about the program is available.
- The second opportunity is the State Digital Equity Planning Grant Program, which will provide $60 million for states, territories, and tribal governments to develop their digital equity plans as the first step in addressing digital equity needs across the country. Once the planning grant phase is complete, the $1.44 billion State Digital Equity Capacity Grant Program will open to provide funding for the implementation of these plans. Applications opened on May 13 for the planning grant phase and applications or letters of intent are due on July 12. More information is available.
- The third opportunity is the Enabling Middle Mile Broadband Infrastructure Program, which will provide $1 billion to invest in middle mile networks in unserved and underserved communities. This competitive grant program is open to a wide range of entities from state, local, and tribal governments to non-profits and telecommunications companies. The application period for this program will open on June 21 and close on September 30. Additional details are available.
Internet2 Files Comments on Routing Security
On April 13, Internet2 filed comments with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in response to its Notice of Inquiry (NOI) regarding threats to the security and integrity of the Border Gateway Protocol (BGP).
Internet2 recommended five actions the FCC could take to improve routing security: (1) make the concepts of routing security accessible and important to decision makers; (2) increase access to router configuration training; (3) promote the development and adoption of network configuration tools that will aid in the consistent implementation of the desired routing policy; (4) facilitate the development and operation of a research and education (R&E) routing security observatory to provide the ability to independently measure the alignment with secure route policy; and (5) encourage the development and maintenance of an R&E routing security control framework for assessing an organization’s routing security.
A copy of Internet2’s filing is available for download. Additional context and information about the filing are available.
Final Negotiation on Competition Legislation Authorized
On April 28, the Senate voted 67-27 to agree to authorize a conference committee to negotiate an agreement with the House on reconciling differences between the Senate-passed United States Innovation and Competition Act (USICA) (S.1260) and the House-passed America COMPETES Act (H.R. 4521). This follows a similar vote by the House in March. Both bills contain considerable investments in R&D, structural changes to the operations of the National Science Foundation (NSF), and financial incentives to encourage domestic semi-conductor manufacturing. Now that a conference committee has been authorized by both chambers, conferees will meet to resolve differences between the two bills so that a final compromise version can be passed and signed into law later this year.
Biden Administration Unveils Budget
On March 28, the president announced the release of the White House FY 2023 Budget. This document lays out the Administration’s spending priorities for the coming year and provides guidance to Congress as it develops appropriations legislation.
Of particular interest to the R&E community, one notable provision would provide a $2 billion increase in discretionary funding for the National Science Foundation (NSF), for a total budget of $10.5 billion (a 24% increase from the 2021 enacted level). Included within this allocation is a plan for a $50 million new initiative at NSF called Growing Research Access for Nationally Transformative Equity and Diversity (GRANTED) that aims to build capacity at emerging research institutions to help them more effectively compete for research funding.
Additionally, the budget calls for a $773 million increase in funding for the Department of Energy’s Office of Science to $7.79 billion (an increase of 11 percent from the 2021 enacted level). The budget also calls for a $25 billion increase in total federal spending on basic and applied research to $111 billion (a 29% increase over 2021 enacted levels) as well as a $45 billion increase in total federal spending on R&D to $205 billion (a 28% increase over 2021 enacted levels).
Now that this important step in the annual federal fiscal process has been completed, the focus will shift to Congress as the House and Senate Appropriations Committees work in consultation with their colleagues on the relevant committees of jurisdiction to consider the president’s proposals and formulate the appropriations legislation for the coming year.
FY 2022 Funding Package Becomes Law
After months of negotiation and several Continuing Resolutions to extend temporary funding, the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2022 (P.L. 117-103) finally became law on March 15. This omnibus legislation included all 12 regular appropriations bills as well as a supplemental package providing funding to support Ukraine.
Among the $1.5 trillion in funding in this legislation are several highlights for the R&E community. This includes $7.2 billion in funding for Research and Related Activities at NSF (an increase of $250 million above 2021 enacted levels), which will support the new Directorate for Technology, Innovation, and Partnerships along with other longer-standing research programs at NSF. It also includes $7.48 billion for the Department of Energy’s Office of Science (an increase of $449 million above 2021 enacted levels), as well as $44.96 billion for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) (an increase of $2.25 billion above the 2021 enacted levels). Now that this legislation has become law, federal agencies and institutions partnering with them can be assured of fiscal stability through the end of September.
NSF Announces New Directorate
On March 16, NSF Director, Sethuraman Panchanathan, announced the formation of a new directorate within NSF focused on Technology, Innovation, and Partnerships (TIP). This new TIP Directorate is intended to focus on accelerating the development of new technologies and their path to commercialization. It also will focus on facilitating partnerships between academia and industry as well as government, non-profits, civil society, and communities of practice with an emphasis on fostering regional innovation ecosystems all around the country over time. The recently announced White House budget calls for $880 million to support TIP’s activities in FY 2023. Director Panchanathan has selected Dr. Erwin Gianchandani to serve as the Assistant Director for TIP. Prior to his selection for this position, Dr. Gianchandani served as Deputy Assistant Director for the Computer and Information Science and Engineering (CISE) Directorate at NSF.
The TIP Directorate bears similarities to the new NSF directorates envisioned by both the House’s America COMPETES Act (H.R. 4521) and the Senate’s USICA (S. 1260). Should a compromise version of these two bills ultimately become law later this year, TIP’s mission, structure, and funding likely would be adjusted.
The Quilt and Internet2 File Comments with NTIA
On January 10, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) at the Department of Commerce issued a Request for Comments (RFC) seeking assistance in shaping several new broadband programs authorized by the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA). In response, The Quilt and Internet2 submitted joint comments to the agency on February 4. The filing focused on several key topic areas:
- Bringing reliable, affordable, high-speed broadband to all Americans
- Supporting states, territories, and sub-grantees to achieve the goal
- Ensuring all eligible entities, including R&E networks, are considered in state grant programs
- Including educational stakeholders and interests in formulation of local broadband plans
- Establishing clear rules to enable open access to federally funded network facilities
- Establishing strong collaborative partnerships between state, local, and tribal governments
- Considering Digital Equity for higher education and unique needs of all educational institutions and community anchor institutions
- Setting appropriate standards for applicants to the Middle Mile Broadband Infrastructure (MMBI) grant program
View the filing by The Quilt and Internet2.
House Passes Legislation with Major Research Investments
On February 4, the House passed the America Creating Opportunities for Manufacturing, Pre-Eminence in Technology, and Economic Strength (COMPETES) Act (H.R. 4521) by a vote of 222-210. This legislation would provide significant investments and new federal policy support for U.S. manufacturing and research and development (R&D) and serves as the House response to the U.S. Innovation and Competition Act (USICA) (S. 1260), which passed the Senate in June 2021.
Some of the more notable provisions include:
- Proposed investments of $52 billion in subsidies to encourage semiconductor manufacturing in the U.S. The bill also would provide nearly $78 billion of additional funding for the National Science Foundation (NSF) over the next five years.
- Creation of a new Directorate for Science and Engineering Solutions (SES) at NSF, with funding of $13.3 billion over five years. This new wing of NSF would be tasked with accelerating purpose-driven R&D to advance solutions to pressing societal challenges, ranging from climate change to cybersecurity and STEM education and workforce issues. Among the directorate’s responsibilities would be a new Planning and Capacity Building Grants program to provide support to smaller research institutions for technology transfer staff, private sector partnerships, and education and training for students and researchers. This program would receive $40 million per year for fiscal years 2022 through 2026 from SES’s overall $13.3 billion in funding.
- New grant programs aimed at expanding resources for TCUs, HBCUs, and other MSIs, including a $2 million-per-year NSF-led TCU computer science education program and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Dr. David Satcher Cybersecurity Education Grant Program to assist HBCUs and MSIs with establishing or expanding their cybersecurity education and training programs.
- The reorganization of the Office of Policy Analysis and Development at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) into the Office of Policy Development and Cybersecurity. The office would be tasked with a host of duties, including: 1) the identification of barriers to trust, security, innovation, and commercialization with respect to communications technologies; 2) promoting increased collaboration between security researchers and providers of communications services and software system developers; and 3) coordinating multistakeholder processes to create guidance or to support the development and implementation of cybersecurity and privacy policies with respect to the internet and other communications networks.
The bill will now move into a phase of negotiation between House and Senate leadership with an aim to resolve differences with USICA to allow for final passage of a unified version of this legislation by the end of the year.
FCC Launches Internet Routing Vulnerability Inquiry
On February 28, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) adopted a Notice of Inquiry (NOI) proposed by Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel to seek public comment on vulnerabilities threatening the security and integrity of the Border Gateway Protocol (BGP), which is central to the internet’s global routing system. The inquiry also would seek information on the potential impact of these vulnerabilities on crucial data transfer systems such as email, e-commerce, bank transactions, interconnected Voice-over-Internet-Protocol (VoIP), and 911 calls, as well as how best to address these challenges. View the NOI. Comments will be due 30 days after the publication of this notice in the Federal Register, with reply comments due within 60 days of Federal Register publication.
Senate Confirms New NTIA Head
On January 11, the Senate voted 60-31 to confirm Alan Davidson’s appointment as the Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Communications and Information. In his new role, Davidson will lead the U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), the first permanent head of the agency in more than two years. With the passage of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) last year, NTIA has been charged with overseeing the distribution of $48.2 billion of new broadband infrastructure funding. Davidson’s experience includes serving for two years as Mozilla’s Vice President of Global Policy, Trust, and Security, two years as the Director of Digital Economy at the U.S. Department of Commerce, and seven years as Google’s Director of Public Policy.
NTIA Requests Feedback on IIJA Implementation
NTIA issued a Request for Comment (RFC) on January 10 regarding the agency’s upcoming rollout of several new broadband infrastructure programs under the IIJA. This RFC seeks answers to 35 different questions addressing several aspects of the new programs, including how to best ensure that providers of all sizes can compete for funding, what circumstances may justify waivers of matching fund requirements, and what impacts “Buy American” requirements may have on the implementation of these new efforts. NTIA has set a deadline of 5 p.m. EST on February 4 for the submission of written comments.
House Introduces Highly Anticipated Technology Investment Bill
The House unveiled a long-awaited companion bill to the U.S. Innovation and Competition Act (USICA) (S. 1260), which passed the Senate in June 2021. The House bill, the America Creating Opportunities for Manufacturing, Pre-Eminence in Technology, and Economic Strength (COMPETES) Act (H.R. 4521), was finally made public on January 25. The bill would provide significant investments and new federal policy support for U.S. manufacturing and research and development (R&D). One of the most notable proposed investments comes in the form of $52 billion in subsidies to encourage semiconductor manufacturing in the U.S.
In addition to this funding, the bill would authorize the creation of a new Directorate for Science and Engineering Solutions (SES) at the National Science Foundation (NSF). This new wing of NSF would be tasked with accelerating purpose-driven R&D to advance solutions to pressing societal challenges ranging from climate change to cybersecurity and STEM education and workforce issues. Among the Directorate’s responsibilities would be a new Planning and Capacity Building Grants program to provide support to smaller research institutions for technology transfer staff, private sector partnerships, and education and training for students and researchers. This program would receive $40 million per year for fiscal years 2022 through 2026.
The House is expected to take action on the legislation in early February. It is unclear if the Senate will vote on the House measure or if an effort will be made to reconcile differences between USICA and the America COMPETES Act before moving a final legislative compromise forward.
Infrastructure Bill Becomes Law
On November 15, the president signed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (P.L. 117-58) after months of work and negotiations. This new law will provide $550 billion of new spending on physical infrastructure projects, with $65 billion of that total designated for broadband.
Included within the broadband funding are several new grant programs that will be managed by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA). These consist of the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) Program ($42.45 billion), the Enabling Middle Mile Broadband Infrastructure Program ($1 billion), the State Digital Equity Planning Grant Program ($60 million), the State Digital Equity Capacity Grant Program ($1.44 billion), and the Digital Equity Competitive Grant Program ($1.25 billion). NTIA also was provided with an additional $2 billion to continue supporting the Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program originally implemented under the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021. More information about NTIA’s role in implementing these programs is available here.
The remainder of the law’s broadband funding is primarily divided between an extension of the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) Affordable Connectivity Benefit ($14.2 billion) and the Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utilities Service (RUS) Distance Learning, Telemedicine, and Broadband Program ($2 billion).
House Passes Build Back Better Act
On November 19, the House passed its version of the long-awaited reconciliation bill, the Build Back Better Act (H.R. 5376). This $1.75 trillion bill would invest heavily in everything from healthcare to clean energy. While there are no major investments in broadband on the level of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, the bill does make a significant investment in Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs) in the form of the Research and Development Infrastructure Competitive Grant Program. This new program would be operated by the Department of Education and provides $3 billion to MSIs to improve their research capacity and research and development infrastructure. The program will consist of an up to two-year period for planning grants as well as an up to five-year period for implementation grants. The bill directs the Secretary of Education to conduct competitions for grants among like institutions to ensure that one classification of MSI is not competing against both its peers and other classifications of MSIs for funding.
The bill has now moved to the Senate for consideration where it will require a 51-vote majority to pass. It is expected that some aspects of this bill will change as negotiations continue in the Senate.
White House Announces Nominees for FCC and NTIA
On October 26, the White House provided an update on key nominations. The president has chosen Jessica Rosenworcel as the Chair and Gigi Sohn as a Commissioner at the Federal Communications Commission. Additionally, the president selected Alan Davidson as the new Assistant Secretary for Communications and Information at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) at the Department of Commerce.
Rosenworcel currently serves as acting FCC Chair and has served as a Commissioner at the FCC since 2012. Sohn is a Distinguished Fellow at the Georgetown Law Institute for Technology Law and Policy and a Benton Senior Fellow and Public Advocate. She previously served as Counselor to former FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler from 2013-2016. Davidson is a Senior Advisor at the Mozilla Foundation and previously served as Vice President of Global Policy, Trust, and Security at Mozilla.
All three nominees must now go through the confirmation process in the Senate.
New $1.75 Trillion Reconciliation Proposal Announced
On October 28, the president announced a new $1.75 trillion framework to make adjustments to the Build Back Better Act, the $3.5 trillion reconciliation bill introduced in the House in September. The framework would include $3 billion for a grant program to improve research infrastructure at Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Hispanic-Serving Institutions, Tribal Colleges and Universities, and other Minority-Serving Institutions.
This increases funding for this new program from the $2 billion initially envisioned in the original $3.5 trillion House version of the bill. The framework also would include $475 million in grants for WiFi-enabled devices to allow broadband subscribers to access federally subsidized broadband, $300 million for the FCC’s Emergency Connectivity Fund to support distance learning, $100 million for public outreach and education on the FCC’s existing broadband programs, and $250 million for grants to public-private partnerships to find long-term solutions to lack of access to affordable broadband in urban areas.
While negotiations on some details of the framework continue, the president has expressed confidence that this updated version of the reconciliation bill ultimately will prove successful in winning enough support to become law.
House Completes Draft of Reconciliation Bill
On September 27, Chairman of the House Budget Committee Rep. John Yarmuth (KY-3) introduced the Build Back Better Act (H.R. 5376). This is the House of Representatives’ draft of the $3.5 trillion reconciliation bill aimed at addressing a wide array of issues from childcare and education to climate change.
The Build Back Better Act contains relatively limited broadband funding, with most concentrated on $10 billion in grants for the implementation of Next Generation 9-1-1 services and $4 billion for the Federal Communication Commission’s (FCC) Emergency Connectivity Fund, which ensures that students, school staff, and library patrons have internet connectivity and devices at locations other than their schools and libraries.
The bill’s education provisions include a substantial new investment in the form of the Research and Development Infrastructure Competitive Grant Program. This $2 billion program is designed to provide opportunities for minority-serving institutions (MSIs) to improve their on-campus research infrastructure, including “high-speed broadband internet infrastructure” and “building data and collaboration infrastructure.” Under this program, consortia may be eligible for funding so long as they are led by an eligible MSI.
The timeline for a vote by the House remains fluid as negotiations with the Senate continue in an effort to ensure that both the Build Back Better Act and the bipartisan infrastructure bill, known as the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (H.R. 3684), are able to move forward.
Short Term Funding Bill Becomes Law
On September 30, the president signed the Extending Government Funding and Delivering Emergency Assistance Act (H.R. 5305) into law, narrowly avoiding a government shutdown. This continuing resolution provides temporary extensions of funding for federal agencies and programs at FY 2021 levels until December 3, providing additional time for Congress to complete the normal appropriations process for FY 2022 which began on October 1.
Internet2 Submits Comments to White House AI Research Task Force
In July, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) and the National Science Foundation (NSF) released a Request for Information (RFI) to inform the work of the National Artificial Intelligence Research Resource (NAIRR) Task Force. The Task Force has been directed by Congress to develop a roadmap for a shared research infrastructure for artificial intelligence researchers and students. On September 29, Internet2 submitted comments to address several questions posed in the RFI regarding extending R&E networks to all universities, security and access management through the InCommon Federation, and the successful history of public-private partnerships in the R&E community as a model for the NAIRR.
Senate Passes Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill
On August 10, the Senate voted 69-30 to pass the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (H.R. 3684). This bill provides $550 billion in new spending over five years for physical infrastructure projects ranging from improving and repairing roads and bridges to creating a national network of electric vehicle chargers. Included within this new funding is $65 billion for broadband infrastructure programs. The broadband funding is split among several programs designed to address different aspects of the digital divide.
a. Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment Program. The bulk of the broadband funding is in the $42.45 billion Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment Program. The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) at the Department of Commerce will administer this formula-based grant program, which will direct funds to states to then competitively award grants to qualifying broadband infrastructure, mapping, and adoption projects.
b. States receive a minimum of $100 million, remaining funds allocated according to a formula based on number of unserved and high-cost locations in each state
c. Priority given to projects connecting unserved and underserved residences
d. Anchor institutions receive an additional priority after eligible residences are served
e. Connections to anchor institutions must enable gigabit-level speeds
2. Digital Equity Act
a. Under a provision known as the Digital Equity Act, the bill provides $2.75 billion for the State Digital Equity Capacity Grants Program and the Digital Equity Competitive Grant Program. These two programs are designed to promote digital equity, support digital inclusion activities, and build capacity at the state level for increased broadband adoption. NTIA is directed to issue a Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO) within 180 days of the funds becoming available and to make awards within 270 days of issuing the NOFO.
b. State Digital Equity Capacity Grant Program
i. $60 million will be distributed to states in planning grants to develop State Equity Plans
ii.Plans must identify barriers to digital equity in the state and objectives for its promotion
iii. Plans also must describe how the state will collaborate with anchor institutions
iv. $240 million in Fiscal Year 2022 and $300 million a year in Fiscal Years 2023 through 2026 for implementation of State Equity Plans
v.Anchor institutions, including higher education institutions, are eligible to receive funding as subgrantees
c. Digital Equity Competitive Grant Program
i. $250 million a year for five years beginning in Fiscal Year 2022
ii. Program will be administered by NTIA and will provide grants through a competitive process directly to eligible entities including non-profits, higher education institutions, and other anchor institutions
3. Middle Mile Infrastructure
a. NTIA will be granted $1 billion to establish a program to construct, improve, and acquire middle mile infrastructure. Grant recipients under this program must ensure, to the extent feasible, that proposed middle mile projects will be capable of providing 1 gigabit up and down speeds to anchor institutions and will have direct interconnection to anchor institutions within 1,000 feet of middle mile infrastructure. NTIA is directed to release a NOFO within 180 days of the enactment of the bill. Funds will remain available for use until September 30, 2026.
4. Affordable Connectivity Program
a. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will receive $14.2 billion for the Affordable Connectivity Program. This program renames the current Emergency Broadband Benefit program operated by the FCC, expands eligibility to additional low-income households, and makes the program permanent. Under the changes made by this bill, the program will provide $30/month vouchers to low-income families to use toward obtaining broadband service.
Congress Passes Budget Resolution
On August 11, the Senate passed a new budget resolution (S.Con.Res. 14) by a vote of 50-49. On August 24, the House passed the budget resolution by a vote of 220-212. The resolution provides approval for $3.5 trillion to be spent as part of the budget reconciliation process. This process allows major legislation related to spending and raising revenues to be passed by a majority vote in the Senate rather than by the normally required 60 votes in favor. This $3.5 trillion resolution sets up the beginning of the process of crafting a reconciliation bill to address a broad array of issues from health care to climate change to additional investments in infrastructure.
Accompanying the resolution was a memorandum from the Senate Budget Committee providing recommendations to the other committees in the Senate on how to utilize the money designated to their committee when drafting their portion of the reconciliation bill.
The resolution provides $83 billion for the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Technology and the memorandum instructs the committee to use it on items including “research, manufacturing, and economic development,” as well as a “National Science Foundation research and technology directorate.” The Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions is provided $726 billion to use on items including investments in Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), Minority-Serving Institutions (MSIs), Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSIs), Tribal Colleges and Universities (TCUs), and Alaska Native or Native Hawaiian-Serving Institutions (ANNHIs) as well as research infrastructure, including for those same categories of institutions.
Now that the budget resolution has passed the House and Senate, committees in both chambers will work on their respective components of the reconciliation bill with a planned deadline of September 15 for their work to be completed and submitted to the Budget Committees.
House Passes Appropriations Package
On July 29, the House passed a seven-bill appropriations package (H.R. 4502) by a vote of 219-208. This legislation funds the Departments of Agriculture, Education, Energy, Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, Interior, Labor, Transportation, Treasury, and Veterans Affairs. It also funds the Judiciary, Army Corps of Engineers, Environmental Protection Agency, Food and Drug Administration, Small Business Administration, Social Security Administration, the Executive Office of the President and general government functions of the Executive Branch, military construction activities at the Department of Defense, and other independent agencies.
The bill provides $7.32 billion to the Department of Energy’s Office of Science, an increase of $294 million above the Fiscal Year 2021 level. The Department of Health and Human Services would receive $119.8 billion, an increase of $22.9 billion above the Fiscal Year 2021 level. The Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) would receive $282 million, an increase of $25 million above the Fiscal Year 2021 level. The Department of Agriculture would receive $907 million for its rural broadband programs, an increase of $165 million above the Fiscal Year 2021 level. This includes an additional $800 million for the ReConnect Program.
The legislation is now in the Senate for consideration, as the House continues its work on the remaining five annual appropriations bills not included in this package.
Tribal Broadband Program Funding Becomes Available
On June 3, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) announced the availability of $980 million of grant funding for its Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program. This opportunity aims to expand access to and adoption of broadband service on Tribal Land while also providing funding for programs that promote the use of broadband to access remote learning, telework, or telehealth resources during the COVID-19 pandemic. The official Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO) provides an overview of the requirements of the program.
Eligible entities include Tribal Governments, Tribal Colleges and Universities, the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands on behalf of the Native Hawaiian Community (including Native Hawaiian Education Programs), Tribal organizations, and Alaskan Native Corporations.
Applications are due by September 1. Additional information, including the application portal, can be found here.
Rules for Minority Community Broadband Pilot Released
NTIA released its Final Rule regarding the structure of the Connecting Minority Communities Pilot Program on June 15. This funding opportunity will provide $268 million for expanding broadband access to Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), Tribal Colleges and Universities (TCUs), and other minority-serving institutions (MSIs). The rule provides information about eligibility criteria, application requirements, eligible uses for grant funds, and the approval and awards process. While this announcement does not provide a start or end date for the acceptance of applications, NTIA has indicated that this information will be coming soon in a formal NOFO.
FCC Emergency Connectivity Fund Launched
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) announced the launch of its Emergency Connectivity Fund on June 29. This $7.17 billion program administered by the Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC) will provide funding to enable schools and libraries to purchase devices and connectivity for students, school staff, and library patrons for the 2021-2022 school year. Applications will be accepted until August 13. Additional information regarding the program, including how to apply, can be found here.
Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework Agreement Reached
On June 24, the Administration announced it had reached an agreement with a bipartisan group of 20 Senators to a roughly $1 trillion infrastructure framework that would provide a basis for physical infrastructure legislation that could pass Congress with the support of both parties. The plan would provide nearly $600 billion of new spending, with the remainder of the funds being repurposed from previously passed legislation. The agreement would provide $65 billion for broadband, though little information has been released about the details of the agreement. Senators and their staffs are still working to develop draft legislation based on the framework.
Full White House Budget Released
On May 28, the White House released its full $6 trillion budget proposal. This budget combines the $1.5 trillion discretionary spending request sent to Congress in April, the $2.3 trillion American Jobs Plan, and the $1.8 trillion American Families Plan. Included within the comprehensive budget request for FY 2022 is $93.9 million for ESnet at the Department of Energy’s Office of Science, an increase of nearly $3 million from the FY 2021 Enacted Level. Additionally, the request would include $89.5 million for the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) at the Department of Commerce, an increase of nearly $44 million from the FY 2021 Enacted Level.
Now that Congress has received the full budget request from the president, the House and Senate Budget Committees will begin the process of drafting their formal budget resolutions, an important step in the spending process that sets overall funding levels for the next fiscal year.
Senate Confirms OSTP Director
The Senate confirmed mathematician and geneticist Eric Lander to his new position as Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy at the White House on May 28 by a voice vote. In this position Lander will serve as the chief science adviser to President Biden and also will be the first OSTP Director to hold a seat in the Cabinet.
Broadband Grant Program Funds Become Available
NTIA released a Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO) for its new Broadband Infrastructure Program on May 19. The program will provide $288 million to support projects, in decreasing order of priority, that are designed to provide:
- Broadband service to the greatest number of households in an eligible service area;
- Broadband service to rural areas;
- The most cost-effective broadband service; or
- Broadband service with a download speed of at least 100 Mbps and an upload speed of at least 20 Mbps.
In addition, “other projects” that meet the requirements of the NOFO will be considered. Grants will be awarded to partnerships between a state, political subdivisions of a state, and providers of fixed broadband service. Scoring of applications also will include service of community anchor institutions as a factor.
Complete applications must be filed no later than August 17. NTIA expects to complete its review, selection of successful applicants, and award processing by November 15. Additionally, NTIA expects the earliest start date for awards under this opportunity to be November 29. Additional information, including the application portal, is available online.
White House Releases Budget Proposal
On April 9, the White House sent its FY 2022 budget request to Congress. The $1.5 trillion request proposes notable spending increases across the board, including for broadband deployment and research and education priorities. The U.S Department of Agriculture would receive $700 million for its Broadband ReConnect Program, a $65 million increase over the FY 2021 enacted level. The Department of Energy’s Office of Science would receive $7.4 billion, a $400 million increase over the FY 2021 enacted level. The National Institutes of Health would receive $51 billion, a $9 billion increase over the FY 2021 enacted level. Included within this is $6.5 billion to establish an Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health (ARPA-H), which would aim to “drive transformational innovation in health research and speed the application and implementation of health breakthroughs,” with an initial focus on cancer and other diseases such as diabetes and Alzheimer’s.
The House and Senate Appropriations Committees will now begin the work of drafting the 12 annual spending bills to ensure that Congress is able to pass final legislation before the beginning of the next fiscal year on October 1.
Republican Senators Share Infrastructure Framework
On April 22, Republican Senators Shelley Moore Capito (West Virginia), Roger Wicker (Mississippi), Pat Toomey (Pennsylvania), and Mike Crapo (Idaho) unveiled an outline of their ideas for possible infrastructure legislation as an alternative to the proposal laid out by President Biden. The framework calls for $568 billion in infrastructure investments over five years, including $65 billion for broadband at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration. This group of senators hopes to use this framework as a basis for ongoing negotiations on a potential bipartisan infrastructure package. The process of developing a broader bill continues to develop.
FCC Releases Emergency Connectivity Fund Rules
On April 30, the FCC released the proposed rules for the $7.17 billion Emergency Connectivity Fund authorized by the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021. This program would reimburse schools and libraries for the purchase of laptop and tablet computers, Wi-Fi hotspots, and other eligible equipment as well as broadband connectivity for students, school staff, and library patrons during the COVID-19 pandemic. Find more information about the program’s proposed rules.
New COVID-19 Relief Legislation Becomes Law
On March 11, President Biden signed the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARP) (Public Law No: 117-2) into law. The ARP provides $1.9 trillion for a broad range of priorities, including funding for higher education, broadband support, and needed infrastructure programs.
Under the law, the Department of Education received $39.6 billion for its Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF) to assist colleges and universities in covering the costs of continuing education during COVID, including technology costs. Following the law’s enactment, the department issued updated guidance that expanded the eligible use of HEERF funding to include covering expenses incurred since March 13, 2020, including lost revenue. Previous department guidance on funding for HEERF provided by legislation from last year indicated that such funds could be applied only to expenses incurred on or after the date of each law’s enactment. In addition to the HEERF funding, the department received $123 billion to support safely re-opening K-12 schools across the country.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) received $7.17 billion for its Emergency Connectivity program to provide devices and connectivity to students, school staff, and library patrons.
The Department of the Treasury (Treasury) received $10 billion for a Capital Projects Fund designed to carry out critical capital projects directly enabling work, education, and health monitoring. While the program does not explicitly mention broadband projects as being eligible, the department ultimately may deem them included. Treasury also received $220 billion for a Coronavirus State Recovery Fund and $130 billion for a Coronavirus Local Recovery Fund. Both funds were designed to provide support to governments at the state and local level respectively in economic recovery efforts, including making necessary investments in water, sewer, and broadband infrastructure.
With the signing of the law, federal agencies now move into the implementation phase to draft necessary rules and begin the process of distributing the funds.
House Democrats Re-Introduce Broadband Infrastructure Bill
On March 11, all 32 Democratic members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee re-introduced an updated version of the Leading Infrastructure For Tomorrow’s (LIFT) America Act (H.R. 1848). This piece of legislation would invest $312 billion in clean energy, energy efficiency, drinking water, broadband, and health care infrastructure. The broadband component would include $80 billion over five years to build out high-speed access across the country. Three-quarters of these funds would be awarded through a competitive bidding process managed by the FCC, with the remaining quarter allocated to the states to fund their own competitive bidding programs.
The bill also would authorize an additional $500 million for the Tribal Broadband Connectivity Grants program, as well as $5 billion for a Broadband Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (BIFIA) program to make low-interest financing available for broadband infrastructure deployment projects across the country. Both programs would be run by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA).
This updated version of the LIFT America Act provides a significant increase in funding over last year’s version of the bill, which provided only $40 billion for a single year of funding. While negotiations are ongoing and the makeup of a final infrastructure package remains fluid, it is expected that the priorities laid out in this bill will form a core component of the broader legislation that ultimately will be advanced by the House in the coming months.
Biden Announces Infrastructure Plan
On March 31, President Biden announced a $2 trillion proposal outlining the administration’s vision for investing in American infrastructure. Accompanying the announcement, the White House released a detailed fact sheet covering the plan’s priorities. The proposal, named the American Jobs Plan, includes a number of major provisions impacting the research and education community. These include:
- A $40 billion investment in upgrading research infrastructure, including brick-and-mortar facilities and computing capabilities and networks; half of these funds would be reserved for Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and other Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs)
- A $10 billion research and development investment at HBCUs and other MSIs
- $15 billion to create up to 200 centers of excellence to serve as research incubators at HBCUs and MSIs
- $50 billion for the National Science Foundation (NSF), in part to create a new Technology Directorate to collaborate with and build on existing programs across government
- A $100 billion investment in overall broadband infrastructure nationwide
The president and Congress will continue to work together in the coming months to develop a final legislative package, with the American Jobs Plan serving as a blueprint for White House priorities in the ongoing negotiations.
House Passes Major COVID Stimulus Package
The House passed the American Rescue Plan Act (H.R. 1319) by a vote of 219-212 on February 27. This legislative package includes $1.9 trillion of funding for a wide array of issues ranging from enhanced unemployment benefits to funding for vaccine distribution. Included within the bill are billions of dollars for higher education and connectivity for students. The Department of Education would receive $39.6 billion for its Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF), originally established by the CARES Act in March 2020. These funds would remain available to higher education institutions until September 30, 2023. Additionally, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) would receive $7.6 billion for an Emergency Connectivity Fund under its E-rate program to provide schools and libraries with funding to purchase equipment or advanced telecommunications and information services to students and library patrons.
This legislation is being advanced through the budget reconciliation process, a legislative tool that allows Congress to modify existing laws and make adjustments to spending levels. Budget reconciliation bills allow for a fast-tracked process in the Senate. They require only a simple majority vote to pass the Senate rather than the usually required 60 vote threshold and as such Senators cannot filibuster reconciliation bills to delay the process.
With passage by the House now complete, the bill will head to the Senate for approval.
Senate Confirms Commerce, Energy, and Education Secretaries
The Senate voted 84-15 to confirm Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo to be the new Secretary of Commerce, 64-35 to confirm former Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm as the new Secretary of Energy, and 64-33 to confirm Secretary of Education nominee Miguel Cardona.
Raimondo has served as Governor of Rhode Island since 2015, where she has focused on workplace training, small business loans, and clean energy. Previously she served as the state’s general treasurer and founded a venture capital firm. In her newly confirmed role, Raimondo will oversee agencies including the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), and its numerous broadband deployment programs.
Granholm served as governor from 2003 to 2011, working with the state’s auto industry during the financial crisis and focusing on clean energy development. With her confirmation, Granholm will oversee significant federal research resources through the Department of Energy’s Office of Science and ESnet.
Cardona previously served as the education commissioner of Connecticut beginning in August 2019. He has spent his career as a teacher and most recently served as a school district assistant superintendent. As secretary, Cardona will oversee financial aid for students and advise the president on education policy at all levels.
Minority Communities Broadband Pilot Closer to Implementation
The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) is moving its rulemaking process for the Connecting Minority Communities Broadband Pilot program toward final implementation. Rules for the new program are currently working their way through the review process within the Department of Commerce.
The pilot program was authorized by Congress in the Consolidated Appropriations Act in December, providing $285 million for NTIA to award grants to institutions, businesses, and non-profit organizations in minority communities to support connectivity. Congress mandated that not less than 40 percent of the grants made under this program must be to Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs).
NTIA will be hosting a webinar on March 17th to discuss this new program as well as two others authorized by Congress in December, the Tribal Broadband Connectivity Grants and the Broadband Infrastructure Deployment Grants programs. Get information about the webinar including how to register to participate.
Biden Administration Introduces Stimulus Proposal
President Biden has introduced a $1.9 trillion plan to provide additional relief related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Among a wide variety of health and economic measures, the “American Rescue Plan” includes an additional $35 billion in funding for the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund first established by last year’s CARES Act, as well as $5 billion for governors to support K-12, higher education, and early childhood education programs in the states that have been hardest hit by COVID-19. The plan also calls for $20 billion to support Tribal governments in their response to the pandemic, including their efforts to expand internet access to allow children to learn remotely and families to access telemedicine services.
Finally, the proposal aims to improve federal information technology infrastructure to provide better protection against cyber attacks. This effort would include: a $9 billion investment in new IT and cybersecurity shared services at the Cyber Security and Information Security Agency (CISA) and the General Services Administration (GSA); $200 million for the Information Technology Oversight and Reform fund to allow the rapid hiring of hundreds of cybersecurity technology and engineering experts; $300 million for the Technology Transformation Services at the GSA to support secure IT projects without the need for reimbursement from agencies; and $690 million for CISA to strengthen cybersecurity across federal civilian agency networks.
While legislative text to concretize the proposal has yet to be finalized, both the House and Senate have now passed a budget resolution, which paves the way for a vote on final legislation to codify the administration’s plan in the near future.
Acting FCC Chair Named
President Biden has named Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel as Acting Chairwoman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). In this role, Rosenworcel will lead the agency until a permanent chair is selected by the president. The FCC currently is evenly divided between two Democrat and two Republican commissioners, with a majority vote being required for action on regulatory matters. The vacant position on the commission left by outgoing Chairman Ajit Pai also will need to be filled to bring the FCC back to a full roster. Rosenworcel is currently in her second five-year term as a commissioner.
Major Stimulus Package Becomes Law
On December 27, 2020, the president signed into law the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021 (Public Law No. 116-260). This legislation combined fiscal year 2021 appropriations with a $900 billion stimulus relief package to address the continuing impacts of COVID-19. The stimulus package included a broad array of funding opportunities, some new and some supplemental to existing programs authorized by the CARES Act in March 2020. Below is a summary of funding for federal agencies that are of interest to the Internet2 community. Unless otherwise noted, application details and deadlines are not yet available.
Department of Agriculture
ReConnect Broadband Pilot Program: The Department of Agriculture (USDA) will receive $635 million to support its ReConnect Pilot Program, which provides funding for grants and loans to increase access to broadband connectivity in unserved rural communities. Eligible uses of funding include construction, improvement or acquisition of facilities required to provide broadband service.
Distance Learning, Telemedicine, and Broadband Program: USDA will receive $97 million for this program, which is designed to provide access to resources for rural Americans. Grants may be used to fund telecommunications-enabled information, audio and video equipment, and related advanced technologies that extend educational and medical applications into rural areas. Eligible entities must either operate a rural community facility or deliver distance learning or telemedicine services to entities that operate a rural community facility or to residents of rural areas.
Department of Commerce
Grants for Broadband Connectivity: The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) will receive $1.3 billion for grants to provide broadband connectivity to unserved areas. Of these funds, $1 billion will go to the Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program and $300 million to the Broadband Infrastructure Program. Deadlines: NTIA will issue a notice within 30-60 days of enactment of the law to invite eligible entities and covered partnerships to submit applications for the Broadband Infrastructure Program.
Connecting Minority Communities: The legislation creates an Office of Minority Broadband Initiatives at NTIA, codifying the existing undertaking of the Minority Broadband Initiative, which launched in 2019. It also establishes the Connecting Minority Communities Pilot Program. The law provides $285 million for this program for FY 2021 to award grants to institutions, businesses, and non-profit organizations in the community to support connectivity. Not less than 40 percent of the grants made under this program must be to Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). Deadlines: Within 45 days of the enactment of this law, the Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Communications and Information must promulgate rules establishing the program.
Scientific and Technical Research Services: The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) will receive $1 billion, including $6.5 million for quantum information science and $1.25 million for research on cybersecurity of genomic data in collaboration with industry and academia.
Economic Development Assistance Programs: The Economic Development Administration (EDA) will receive $305 million for its Economic Development Assistance Programs. The EDA is directed to coordinate with regional development organizations to support projects that address rural economic development challenges, including broadband access. The EDA is encouraged to use this funding to support broadband infrastructure projects, particularly in underserved areas, and public-private partnerships in distressed communities seeking to diversify their local workforce.
NOAA: The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) will receive $4.1 billion for its operations, research, and facilities budget, including $43.5 million for research focused on supercomputing and $43 million for NOAA facilities construction.
Low Cost Sensors: NTIA is encouraged to improve the development of 5G and spectrum sharing through academic partnerships to accelerate the development of low-cost sensors, though no targeted funding was provided for this purpose.
Department of Education
The Department of Education will receive an additional $82 billion for its Education Stabilization Fund, originally established by the CARES Act in 2020. Of these funds, $22.7 billion will go to the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund. This program provides grants for colleges and universities to help with the costs of continuing education in the COVID environment, including defraying technology costs for online-only education. $1.7 billion of these funds will be reserved exclusively for Historically Black Colleges and Universities and other Minority Serving Institutions.
Federal Communications Commission
COVID-19 Telehealth Program: The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will receive an additional $250 million for its COVID-19 Telehealth Program. The program is designed to provide assistance to health care providers in connecting patients from their homes or mobile locations. The program provides full funding of telecommunications services, information services, and necessary devices for eligible health care providers. Eligible providers include certain post-secondary educational institutions, community health centers, local health departments, not-for-profit hospitals, and skilled nursing facilities. Additionally, eligible providers must be non-profit or public institutions. Deadlines: The FCC issued a public request for comment on January 6, seeking input on how to administer this second round of funding. Comments are due by January 19.
Secure and Trusted Communications Networks Act: The FCC will receive $1.9 billion to implement the Secure and Trusted Communications Network Act of 2019. That legislation created a general requirement for all recipients of funding through an FCC-administered program to ensure that it does not use any federal funds it receives to purchase, rent, lease, obtain, or maintain any covered equipment or service from a supplier deemed to be a national security threat. Currently only Huawei and ZTE are so designated.
Department of the Interior
Bureau of Indian Education: The Bureau of Indian Education (BIE) will receive $48 million for Education Management and $5 million for Education IT. The BIE is directed to report on a scalable plan to increase bandwidth in BIE-funded schools, procure computers, and acquire software. This report should also include how the bureau is working with other federal agencies to coordinate and plan for the technology buildout. Deadlines: The report is due within 90 days of the law’s enactment.
Department of Justice
IoT Training Initiative: The Department of Justice will receive $2 million for a competitive grant program to provide four awards of not less than $500,000 each for institutions of higher learning that provide training in computer forensics and digital investigation to develop a database on Internet of Things device capabilities and to build and execute training modules for law enforcement.
Department of Veterans Affairs
Veterans Affairs Telehealth: The Department of Veterans Affairs will receive $1.3 billion to sustain and increase telehealth capacity for veterans, including in rural and highly rural areas. Within 180 days of enactment of this law, the department is directed to provide a report on the expansion of telehealth undertaken in 2020, lessons learned, and the feasibility of making these changes permanent. Further, the department is directed to provide a plan to address the future telehealth needs of the organization.
Regional Commission Funds
The legislation provides $15 million for the Appalachian Regional Commission and $5 million for the Northern Border Regional Commission to continue to support high-speed broadband deployment in their respective regions.
New Cabinet Nominees Announced
President-elect Joe Biden has completed the rollout of his nominees for Cabinet positions to run each Executive Branch department. These officials all require confirmation by the U.S. Senate, a process which will begin once the Senate returns to Washington to resume business on January 19. Key nominations include:
- Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo for Secretary of Commerce. Raimondo has served in her current role since 2015, where she has focused on workplace training, small business loans, and clean energy. Previously she served as the state’s general treasurer and founded a venture capital firm. Should she be confirmed, Raimondo would oversee agencies including the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) and its numerous broadband deployment programs.
- Former Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm for Secretary of Energy. Granholm led her state as governor from 2003 to 2011, where she worked with the state’s auto industry during the financial crisis and focused on clean energy development. Should she be confirmed, Granholm would oversee DoE’s Office of Science and ESnet.
- Miguel Cardona for Secretary of Education. Cardona has been the education commissioner of Connecticut since August 2019. He has spent his career as a teacher and most recently served as a school district assistant superintendent. Should he be confirmed, Cardona would oversee financial aid for students and advise the president on education policy at all levels.
- California Attorney General Xavier Becerra for Secretary of Health and Human Services. Becerra has served in his current role since January 2017. Prior to taking on that role, he served as a Member of Congress beginning in 1993. Should he be confirmed, Becerra would oversee the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
- Former Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack for Secretary of Agriculture. Vilsack served as President Barack Obama’s Secretary of Agriculture from 2009 to 2017. Prior to that, he served as Governor of Iowa from 1999 to 2007 and as an Iowa State Senator from 1993 to 1999. Should he be confirmed, Vilsack would oversee the Rural Utility Service (RUS) and a variety of rural broadband programs.
Election Sets Path for 2021 Agenda
While control of the Senate in the 117th Congress remains unclear until the resolution of the two Georgia runoff elections on January 5, voters in the November election decided to place the White House and House of Representatives in the hands of Democrats in 2021. President-elect Biden has begun to announce his picks for Cabinet-level positions and continued to tout the Build Back Better agenda from the campaign, with a strong focus on infrastructure investments, including in broadband.
Biden’s Federal Communications Commission (FCC) transition team consists primarily of experienced telecom professionals with strong ties to former FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler. Three members of the team who are seen as possible frontrunners for the role of FCC Chair under the Biden administration are senior counselor at the House Judiciary Committee John Williams, former FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn, and former FCC and National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) staffer Smitty Smith. Potential leadership in other key science and broadband related offices such as the Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) and NTIA Administrator remains unclear.
One key leadership position that is likely to remain more certain is that of Director of the National Science Foundation (NSF). NSF’s Director serves a six-year term and the current leader, Director Sethuraman Panchanathan, was confirmed in June 2020. While Biden may choose to remove Director Panchanathan from his position in favor of his own pick, such a move is considered unlikely. However, NSF’s Deputy Director position has remained vacant since 2014 and Biden undoubtedly will seek to fill the role.
The outcome of the runoff elections in Georgia will have a significant impact on the success and speed of passage and implementation of many of Biden’s priorities, as whoever controls the Senate will have a great deal of influence over both the timetable of any major agenda items and which appointees actually make it into executive agencies to implement them.
Additional information on the makeup of the Biden transition team, divided by agency or area of responsibility, is available at buildbackbetter.gov.
Government Funding Deadline Draws Closer
As Congress returns from Thanksgiving recess, negotiations on a government funding package are underway. House and Senate leaders must now decide if an agreement on a full funding package for all 12 appropriations bills will be possible or if an additional Continuing Resolution (CR) must be passed to either buy additional time for negotiations or simply extend funding at current levels into next year. The current CR expires on December 11 and, with the other priority of additional COVID-19 relief legislation looming as the year comes to a close, time is running out for a deal to be struck.
FCC Chairman Announces Retirement
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has announced that he will step down from his post on January 20, 2021, to coincide with the inauguration of President-Elect Biden. Pai has led the regulatory agency since 2017 as an appointee of President Trump, presiding over a variety of policy debates on contentious issues ranging from net neutrality to the rollout of 5G networks. Once Pai departs, the agency will be left with two Democrat and two Republican commissioners, which may lead to deadlocks on major policy decisions until the Senate confirms a replacement to the chairman post nominated by the Biden administration.
Committee Advances FCC Nomination to Full Senate
The Senate Commerce Committee held a vote on December 2 advancing the confirmation of FCC nominee Nathan Simington to the full chamber by a margin of 14-12. Simington was nominated in September to replace sitting Commissioner Michael O’Rielly after the White House withdrew O’Rielly’s renomination. Senator Blumenthal (D-CT), a member of the Committee, has expressed concerns about Simington, seeking additional answers from the nominee on certain policy questions. Blumenthal has expressed a willingness to place a hold on the nomination, a procedural privilege extended to members, which would delay the process of moving to a full Senate vote until Blumenthal is satisfied. Barring any such procedural disruptions, the Commerce Committee’s vote in favor of Simington’s nomination will allow the Senate to proceed with a final confirmation vote to install the nominee to serve the remainder of a five-year term that began in July 2019.
White House Issues Report on Administration’s Science and Technology Activities
The Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) has shared a report titled “Advancing America’s Global Leadership in Science & Technology.” This report aims to share what OSTP considers to be the highlights of the Administration’s work since 2017 by providing an overview of executive actions and legislative activity in the science and technology space. The section on “Accelerating American Leadership in the Industries of the Future” covers a number of topics relevant to the R&E community, including artificial intelligence, quantum information science, and advanced communications networks. A copy of the full report is available.
Bipartisan Bill Introduced to Limit Emergency Presidential Internet Authority
On October 22, Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-CA) and Rep. Morgan Griffith (R-VA) introduced the Preventing Unwarranted Communications Shutdowns Act (H.R. 8659) in the House of Representatives. Among other powers, Section 706 of the Communications Act of 1934 grants the president the authority to take control of “any facility or station for wire communication” during a state or threat of war. This bill aims to limit the president’s authority to take unilateral action under these provisions by limiting the reasons a president may take action under this authority and requiring advance notice to Congressional leadership. The bill also requires the passage of a resolution of approval by a three-fifths majority each of the House and the Senate to allow presidential actions limiting internet access to continue for a period exceeding 48 hours.
The legislation also would require that the U.S. government compensate providers and customers for any shutdown under Section 706. The bill has been referred to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce for consideration.
FCC Nomination Hearing Held
The Senate Commerce Committee held a hearing on November 10 considering the nomination of Nathan Simington to serve as a commissioner of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Simington was nominated in September to replace Commissioner Michael O’Rielly. Should the nomination be advanced by the committee it will move to the full Senate for a vote on confirmation.
Temporary Funding Legislation Becomes Law
On October 1, the president signed the Continuing Appropriations Act, 2021 and Other Extensions Act (H.R. 8337) into law, narrowly avoiding a government shutdown. This came after passage of the bill by the House on September 22 and the Senate on September 30. This legislation extends funding for all of the federal government at FY 2020 levels through December 11, granting time to Congress to negotiate and pass full appropriations bills for FY 2021 or settle on a longer-term Continuing Resolution.
While some exceptions were made to adjust funding for certain provisions from FY 2020 funding legislation on Medicare, Medicaid, and other healthcare programs, as well as funding for surface transportation and the Department of Veterans Affairs, none appear to have an impact on broadband or federally supported research activities.
White House Announces New FCC Nominee
On September 16, the Administration submitted to the Senate the nomination of Nathan Simington to replace Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Commissioner Michael O’Rielly. Simington’s nomination follows the withdrawal of Commissioner O’Rielly’s renomination to his post by the Administration in July. Simington currently serves as a Senior Advisor in the Office of the Assistant Secretary at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) where he played a significant role in drafting the petition for rulemaking on Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act per the Administration’s executive order reinterpreting the rules governing the liability shield for social media companies. A confirmation vote on the appointment has yet to be scheduled by the Senate Commerce Committee.
OSTP Announces $1 Billion for AI and Quantum Research Centers
On August 26, the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) at the White House announced the commitment over $1 billion of awards for the establishment of seven National Science Foundation (NSF) led Artificial Intelligence (AI) Research Institutes and five Department of Energy (DOE) led Quantum Information Science (QIS) Research Centers.
NSF and other federal partners will award $140 million over five years to support AI research at the University of Oklahoma at Norman, the University of Texas at Austin, the University of Colorado at Boulder, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, the University of California at Davis, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. NSF also anticipates making additional awards available in the coming years. Supported research will include a range of areas, including machine-learning, synthetic manufacturing, precision agriculture, and forecasting prediction.
DOE will allocate $625 million over five years to QIS Research Centers led by DOE National Laboratory teams at Argonne, Brookhaven, Fermi, Oak Ridge, and Lawrence Berkley National Laboratories. An additional $300 million in contributions to this effort will come from the private sector and academic institutions. The centers will focus research on topics such as quantum networking, sensing, computing, and materials manufacturing.
Party Platforms Lay Out Future Broadband Plans
Both Democrats and Republicans held their party conventions this month and voted on the approval of their respective party platforms, which include their broadband agendas. The Republican Party elected not to implement a new platform, instead adopting a resolution to continue endorsing the Party’s 2016 platform. The platform focuses primarily on highlighting the need for broadband expansion to rural America and encouraging public-private partnerships to facilitate these connections. Separately, President Trump’s campaign released a list of priorities, including one titled, “Win the Race to 5G and Establish a National High-Speed Wireless Internet Network.”
The new Democratic Party platform features a number of broadband provisions, including some with an educational focus. Democrats propose increasing federal support for broadband and 5G technology, including rural and municipal broadband networks, while taking action to prevent states from blocking municipalities and rural co-ops from building their own networks. Democrats also support the creation of a national infrastructure bank that will “leverage public and private resources to build infrastructure projects of national or regional significance,” including broadband. Finally, the platform contains a commitment to significantly increase federal investment in rural, urban, and Tribal areas to support broadband deployment to “close the digital divide and ensure that students can access educational resources from their homes and schools now and in the future.”
With both parties’ agendas for broadband and other issues set, the focus now will turn to any additional policy proposals offered by the campaigns of the presidential candidates as the election draws nearer.
House Passes Appropriations Packages
The House of Representatives has now passed two appropriations packages (H.R. 7608 and H.R. 7617) accounting for 10 of the 12 annual funding bills Congress must pass before the end of the fiscal year on September 30, 2020. Included among the provisions are funding increases for the National Science Foundation (NSF), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and National Institutes of Health (NIH). The bills increase funding in these areas by $270 million, $101.9 million, and $5.5 billion respectively.
Additionally, $60 billion of funding is directed to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to distribute grants “to providers of broadband internet access service to expand availability of such service to unserved areas, underserved areas, and unserved anchor institutions.” The bill does not address which entities would be eligible to receive funding.
The Senate has yet to pass any appropriations legislation, as none has been advanced through the Senate Appropriations Committee. While Congress may complete the full appropriations process on time, the possibility remains that Continuing Resolutions may be necessary to cover some or all areas of federal funding for the coming fiscal year.
NTIA Takes Action on Tech Liability Shield
On July 27, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) filed a petition for rulemaking with the FCC to clarify the provisions of section 230 of the Communications Act of 1934. NTIA has taken this action pursuant to an Executive Order (EO 13925) issued in May directing a review of the rules governing the liability protections afforded to online platforms. The FCC currently is reviewing the petition and will make a determination as to whether it should initiate the requested rulemaking process to provide NTIA and the White House with an interpretation of the framework provided by section 230.
FCC Commissioner’s Renomination Withdrawn
The White House has withdrawn FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly’s renomination from consideration by the Senate. O’Rielly’s term as Commissioner expired on June 30, 2019, although he had continued to serve until a replacement was confirmed or his own renomination was successfully advanced through the Senate. However, with the withdrawal of his renomination, he is forbidden by statute from remaining in his post beyond January 3, 2021, when the 117th Congress will be sworn in. It likely will be difficult for the Senate to confirm a replacement before that time given other legislative priorities. The White House has not yet made an official statement as to why the renomination was withdrawn.
House Passes Infrastructure Bill
On July 1, the House of Representatives passed a major infrastructure package by a vote of 233 to 188. The Moving Forward Act (H.R. 2), is a comprehensive $2.5 trillion infrastructure investment plan advanced by House Democrats. The bill includes $100 billion to support broadband delivery to unserved and underserved communities in rural, suburban, and urban areas.
The bill provides $80 billion of these funds for a new program at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) that will include a focus on connecting unserved anchor institutions among its priorities. Additionally, the bill makes clear that this program will be “separate from any universal service program” and “does not require funding recipients to be designated as eligible telecommunications carriers,” potentially opening the door to participation by R&E networks.
An additional $5 billion will be directed to support a new Broadband Infrastructure Finance and Innovation (BIFIA) program at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA). The BIFIA Program would fund a variety of broadband projects, including those that “provide access or improved access to broadband service to schools, libraries, medical and healthcare providers, community colleges and other institutions of higher education, museums, religious organizations, and other community support organizations and entities to facilitate greater use of broadband service by or through such organizations.” Funding under this program would take the form of loans, loan guarantees, and lines of credit.
The bill also would create a new Office of Internet Connectivity and Growth at NTIA, which would oversee two new digital equity grant programs aimed at improving digital literacy in communities across the nation to allow citizens to take full advantage of the benefits provided by expanded broadband access. The first program, the State Digital Equity Capacity Grant Program, would provide resources to state governments to assist their communities in advancing digital equity initiatives. States initially would be required to develop State Digital Equity Plans, which the bill provides $60 million to support. Once the plans are in place, states will be eligible to apply for grants from NTIA for execution of their efforts, for which $625 million would be available. The second grant opportunity, the Digital Equity Competitive Grant Program, would be open directly to local governments, tribal governments, non-profits, educational entities, anchor institutions, and others to undertake their own digital inclusion activities. The bill appropriates $625 million for distribution through this program.
Additionally, the bill provides $9 billion to the FCC to partially reimburse service providers that extend price reductions for broadband service costs to households participating in the Lifeline program, free/reduced school lunch, or recently unemployed.
While this legislation is expected to pass on largely party lines, its future in the Senate remains unclear, as Senate Republicans have expressed skepticism in recent weeks over the prospects of supporting any major infrastructure legislation this year.
30 Higher Education Organizations Send Letter to Congress Supporting R&E Networks
On June 5, 30 organizations representing the interests of the higher education community sent a letter to leadership in the House and Senate, as well as to the leaders of several committees in both chambers, advocating for increased support for R&E networks through federally funded broadband programs. These organizations included EDUCAUSE, the American Council on Education (ACE), and the Association of American Universities (AAU). The letter articulated the importance of R&E networks, particularly in light of the effects that COVID-19 has had on education and research-based response efforts. The organizations argued that Congress needs to take additional steps to provide support to R&E networks to “extend backbone and middle-mile networks in unserved and underserved areas; increase pandemic research connectivity; expand educational wireless systems and wireless services; and meet equipment and capacity needs.”
House Passes $3 Trillion Relief Bill
On May 15, the House voted 208-199 on largely party lines to pass the HEROES Act (H.R. 6800). This bill offers nearly $3 trillion in stimulus spending to provide additional relief to a wide range of sectors impacted by COVID-19. Almost $1 trillion of that funding is directed to state, local, tribal, and territorial governments. Included in the bill is funding for several scientific, educational, and broadband priorities. While this bill is not expected to be voted on by the Senate, it represents the priorities House Democrats intend to advocate for in future negotiations with the Republican-controlled Senate and the Administration on any additional bi-partisan COVID-19 relief legislation that may be developed in the weeks ahead.
Among the scientific and educational funding priorities, the National Science Foundation would receive $125 million for “research and related activities” to be used “to prevent, prepare for, and respond to coronavirus, including to fund research grants.” The National Institutes of Health (NIH) would receive $4.75 billion to expand COVID-19-related research on the NIH campus and at academic institutions across the country, as well as to support costs related to the shutdown and startup of biomedical research laboratories. Of this amount, up to approximately $1 billion would be used “to support additional scientific research or the programs and platforms that support research.”
The Department of Education would receive $90 billion for a State Fiscal Stabilization Fund for grants to states to support statewide and local funding for elementary and secondary schools as well as public postsecondary institutions. The Department also would receive an additional $10.15 billion specifically to support higher education. Eligible uses of these funds include defraying expenses for “technology costs associated with a transition to distance education” and “faculty and staff trainings.”
Broadband provisions in the bill include $1.5 billion to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for an Emergency Connectivity Fund to provide “Wi-Fi hotspots, other equipment, connected devices, and advanced telecommunications and information services to schools and libraries.” Additionally, the FCC would receive $4 billion for an Emergency Broadband Connectivity Fund to provide “an emergency benefit for broadband service.”
CARES Act Funding for HBCUs Becomes Available
On March 27, the CARES Act (P.L. 116-136) was signed into law. This legislation provided $30.75 billion to the Department of Education for the Education Stabilization Fund to distribute to educational institutions and agencies nationwide, including $14.5 billion for the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF).
On April 30, Secretary DeVos announced that $577 million of these funds would begin to be available specifically to Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs).
Per the Secretary’s guidance, among other purposes “institutions may also use these funds to defray institutional expenses” which “may include lost revenue, reimbursement for expenses already incurred, technology costs associated with the transition to distance education, faculty and staff training, and payroll.”
Additionally, in her announcement of the funding, the Secretary stated, “While I know you face many challenges arising from the COVID-19 pandemic, I encourage you to use these awards to expand your remote learning programs and build your IT capacity. These activities will help ensure that learning can continue for your students during the Nation’s recovery from the coronavirus pandemic and strengthen your position to support continued learning in the future.”
Both private institutions of higher education and Public and State controlled institutions of higher education designated as HBCUs are eligible to apply for funding under this opportunity.
Interested applicants must complete three steps to apply for funding under this opportunity:
- Complete the Recipient’s Funding Certification and Agreement form.
- Complete the Application for Federal Assistance (SF-424).
- Complete the Department of Education Supplemental Information Form for the SF-424.
Links to download the SF-424 and Supplemental Information to SF-424 forms, as well as instructions for their completion are available.
Additional information about the program and application process is also available.
Instructions for the submission of required application forms are also available.
The official grants.gov opportunity page is available.
All applications are due by August 1.
President Signs Executive Order on Tech Liability Protections
On May 28, President Trump signed an Executive Order titled “Preventing Online Censorship” (EO 13925). The Order primarily focuses on Section 230(c) of the Communications Decency Act (47 U.S.C. 230), which provides the framework for the legal liability protections currently shielding many online platforms. The official policy of the U.S. now is to clarify “the scope of that immunity” by directing the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) to file a petition for rulemaking within 60 days with the FCC to draft new regulations on three issues:
- The extent to which an online platform may retain liability protection when it actively engages in the policing or editing of content posted on their platform by a third party.
- An examination of the meaning of actions “taken in good faith” by a platform in the management of hosted content; in particular, clarification regarding whether advance warning by the platform and an opportunity for appeal on the part of the content poster is necessary.
- Any other proposed regulations that the NTIA concludes may be appropriate to promote free and open debate on the internet.
The potential impacts for the tech industry of this forthcoming rulemaking process are uncertain but the Order is likely to be challenged in court.
Internet2 and The Quilt Ask Congress to Consider R&E’s Role in the COVID-19 Crisis
On April 20, Internet2 and The Quilt sent a letter to House and Senate leadership highlighting how the work of the research and education (R&E) community and the networks that support it is more crucial now than ever during the current coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis. Both organizations also cited several areas of opportunity for federal support to help the R&E community make even more of a difference.
The letters lay out four specific suggestions for consideration in the next round of COVID-19 legislation. These are:
- Support Public-Private Partnerships to Extend Backbone and Middle Mile Networks in Unserved and Underserved Areas
- Increase Pandemic Research Connectivity
- Expand Educational Wireless Systems and Wireless Services
- Support Equipment and Capacity Needs
While the current timeline for additional legislation remains unclear, leaders in the House, Senate, and Administration have all made clear that they believe additional action is required.
CARES Act Supplement Signed Into Law
After weeks of negotiation, Congress passed the Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act (H.R. 266). The president signed the bill into law on April 24. In total, the bill contains $484 billion of funding with the majority broken up into four priorities.
- $310 billion to replenish funding for the Small Business Administration’s popular Paycheck Protection Program
- $60 billion for the Small Business Administration’s Economic Injury Disaster Loan program
- $75 billion for hospitals and health-care providers
- $25 billion for a new coronavirus testing program
Following the passage of this legislation, the Treasury Department issued additional guidance to assist those seeking relief funds from the Paycheck Protection Program.
Multi-Phase Coronavirus Responses Become Law
Since the beginning of March, Congress has passed three major pieces of legislation in response to the coronavirus (COVID-19), which the president has signed into law. Below is a brief summary of these new laws.
The first law, the Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act (P.L. 116-123), provides $8.3 billion in funding to federal agencies tasked with aspects of planning, research, and response to COVID-19. Funding highlights include: $6.2 billion for the Department of Health and Human Services; $20 million for the Small Business Administration’s (SBA) disaster loans program; $1.6 billion for international response split between USAID ($986 million) and the State Department ($264 million).
The legislation also includes a waiver for Medicare providers, allowing them to provide telehealth services.
The second law, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (P.L. 116-127), addresses issues such as guaranteeing free coronavirus testing, establishing new emergency paid sick leave requirements, enhancing unemployment insurance, increasing Medicaid funding, and expanding food security initiatives.
The emergency paid sick leave provisions apply to employers of less than 500 people. The legislation establishes 12 weeks of Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) coverage with 10 weeks being paid at no less than two-thirds salary. It also establishes 10 work days of paid sick leave for complications arising from COVID-19; employers must pay their employees their full salary for sick leave and two thirds salary for leave used to care for others. The law also provides 100 percent tax credits for employers to offset the costs of paying for any FMLA or paid sick leave provided for under this provision. These provisions are set to expire at the end of the year.
The most recent law, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act (P.L. 116-136), provides $2.2 trillion of funding and addresses a wide range of issues, including giving support to large corporations, small businesses, and individuals, while also providing additional funding to federal agencies.
Under the law, the SBA is authorized to grant loans to businesses of less than 500 employees, which, pursuant to the terms of the acceptable use of these funds, ultimately may be forgiven by the SBA. SBA loans under this Paycheck Protection Program may be used to cover: (1) payroll costs, excluding the prorated portion of any compensation above $100,000 per year for any person; (2) costs related to the continuation of group health care benefits; (3) employee salaries; (4) payments of interest on any mortgage obligation that existed on February 15, 2020; (5) rent payment; (6) interest on any other debt obligations; and (7) utility payments. The maximum loan amount under this program is 250 percent of average monthly payroll costs, up to a total of $10 million. Applications are due by June 30, 2020.
Appropriations highlights in this law include: $30.75 billion for the Department of Education; $99.5 million for the Office of Science at the Department of Energy; $75 million for Rapid Response Research Grants at the National Science Foundation; and $50 million at the Institute of Museum and Library Services.
The $31 billion for the Department of Education is divided into three pots and will be distributed to governors, state education agencies, and higher ed institutions. $3 billion will go to the governors. $13.5 billion is allocated to state education agencies that can be used at their discretion for education needs at any level in their state. The remaining $14.25 billion will go straight to colleges and universities to directly address their needs.
The statute specifically states that funding may be used to defray technology costs associated with transitioning to online-only education. However, colleges and universities must use at least 50 percent of any funds they receive “to provide emergency financial aid grants to students.”
White House Releases Report on National 5G Strategy
The Administration has released a high level overview of its National Strategy to Secure 5G. The report outlines four “lines of effort” to fulfill the goals of the National Cyber Strategy, which was released in September 2018.
These efforts include: (1) facilitating the rollout of 5G domestically; (2) assessing the cybersecurity risks to and identifying core security principles of 5G capabilities and infrastructure; (3) addressing risks to U.S. economic and national security during development and deployment of 5G infrastructure worldwide; and (4) promoting responsible global development and deployment of secure and reliable 5G infrastructure.
While brief, this document is meant to represent a step towards a plan by the U.S. government to support the development of 5G networks across the country and around the world.
Commissioner O’Rielly Re-nominated for FCC Position
The president included Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Commissioner Michael O’Rielly on a recent list of nominations sent to the Senate for approval. If confirmed, O’Rielly would serve a new five-year term on the Commission, ending June 30, 2024.
House Democratic Leaders Announce Infrastructure Plan
On January 29, the chairmen of three key committees in the House announced the framework of a major infrastructure plan calling for $760 billion in investment over a five-year period. Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Peter DeFazio (OR-4), Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone (NJ-6), and Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal (MA-1) outlined a plan that includes an $86 billion investment in broadband over the five years covered by the proposal. Of that sum, $80 billion would go directly towards the deployment of secure and resilient broadband for unserved and underserved communities in rural, suburban, and urban areas across the nation; another $5 billion would be directed to a new program for low-interest financing for broadband deployment projects and a further $1.4 billion would be directed towards the promotion of digital equity efforts.
The plan goes beyond the scope of the LIFT America Act (H.R. 2741), which previously served as the benchmark for Democratic infrastructure plans in this Congress, calling for nearly double the amount of direct investment in broadband deployment. The plan builds upon elements from that bill as well as others introduced last year including the Broadband Infrastructure and Finance Innovation Act (H.R. 4127) and the Digital Equity Act (H.R. 4486).
Legislation to implement this framework is still forthcoming. Additionally, there is currently no companion effort to promote a major infrastructure initiative in the Senate.
USDA Announces Window for Second Round of Broadband Funding
On January 27, Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue announced that the application window for the second round of funding under the ReConnect Pilot Program would begin on January 31. Round one of the program has so far provided over $340 million in grant and loan funding for eligible projects to provide broadband service to unserved and underserved communities. This second round will make $550 million of loan and grant funding available to applicants.
OSTP Seeks Public Comment on Draft Data Guidelines
The Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) posted a Request for Comments on January 17 regarding a draft set of desirable characteristics for the management and sharing of data generated by Federally funded research. Through this process, OSTP seeks to assist Federal agencies in providing more consistent information to the scientific community about desirable characteristics of data repositories for data subject to agency data management and sharing policies. These characteristics could apply to repositories operated by either government or non-governmental entities. The comment period will close on March 6.