Government Relations Update March/April 2023

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By Matthew Hall, Internet2 External Relations Program Manager

Estimated reading time: 4 minutes

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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 for major 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.

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.