Government Relations Update May 2023

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By Matthew Hall Internet2 External Relations Program Manager

Estimated reading time: 4 minutes

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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 on 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.