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Senate-Passed Version of Farm Bill Includes Leahy Amendment Promoting Gigabit Broadband in Rural Areas

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WASHINGTON, June 17, 2013 – With Senate passage of the final version of the farm bill on June 10, the debate turns to the House’s schedule for consideration of and potential passage of the measure.

The final text of the bill as passed the Senate is available here.

From the perspective of broadband deployment, several amendments included in the Senate version of the bill have continued to attract attention in the broadband world.

As reported previously, an amendment by Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, would push for investment in establishing gigabit broadband networks, which are approximately one hundred times faster than the average internet connection, in up to five rural communities.

The Leahy amendment will not require new funding but will instead utilize funding that has already been allocated to the Rural Utilities Service. The RUS will invest in network infrastructure development in the form of both grants and loans.

Leahy said that high-speed internet is crucial in keeping rural areas economically competitive and reviving areas that are struggling.

“Rural America has so much to offer, but without the great equalizer of high-speed Internet, rural communities cannot live up to their full potential,” he said.

The Leahy amendment was approved shortly before the bill itself was passed by the Senate.

Josh Evans is a political science major at Grove City College. He is originally from Dover, Florida. An intern at the National Journalism Center in the summer of 2013, he is a Reporter for Broadband Census News and the News Editor for The Collegian at Grove City College.

Digital Inclusion

CES 2023: Congressional Oversight, Digital Equity Priorities for New Mexico Senator

Sen. Lujan once again voiced concern that the FCC’s national broadband map contains major inaccuracies.

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Photo of Sen. Ben Ray Lujan, D-N.M., in February 2018 by Keith Mellnick used with permission

LAS VEGAS, January 6, 2023 – Sen. Ben Ray Lujan on Friday endorsed “oversight at every level” of executive agencies’ broadband policies and decried service providers that perpetuate digital inequities.

Lujan appeared before an audience at the Consumer Electronics Show with Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., and Sen. Jacky Rosen, D-Nev., to preview the tech-policy priorities of the 118th Congress.

Among Washington legislators, Senators had CES 2023 to themselves: Representatives from the House of Representatives were stuck in Washington participating on Friday in the 12th, 13th and 14th votes for House Speaker.

Congress allocated $65 billion to broadband projects in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act of 2021, the bulk of which, housed in the $42.45 billion Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment program, is yet to be disbursed. The IIJA funds are primarily for infrastructure, but billions are also available for digital equity and affordability projects.

Several federal legislators, including Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., have called for close supervision of Washington’s multitude of broadband-related programs. At CES on Friday, Warner argued that previous tranches of broadband funding have been poorly administered, and Lujan once again voiced concern that the Federal Communications Commission’s national broadband map, whose data will be used to allocate BEAD funds, contains major inaccuracies.

Affordable, high-speed broadband is now a necessity, stated Warner. Lujan argued that policy must crafted to ensure all communities have access to connectivity.

“The [Federal Communications Commission] is working on some of the digital equity definitions right now…. I don’t want to see definitions that create loopholes that people can hide behind to not connect communities,” the New Mexico senator said, emphasizing the importance of “the digital literacy to be able take advantage of what this new connection means, so that people can take advantage of what I saw today [at CES].”

At a Senate hearing in December, Lujan grilled executives from industry trade associations over allegations of digital discrimination.

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Congress

Omnibus Bill Includes FCC Spectrum Auction Extension, TikTok Ban on Government Devices

The spending package includes an extension of the FCC’s auction authority to March 2023.

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Photo of Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-IL.

WASHINGTON, December 20, 2022 – A massive omnibus spending bill for fiscal 2023 released Tuesday includes a provision to extend the Federal Communications Commission’s spectrum auction authority at least until March 2023.

The commission’s authority has already been extended from September to December. But Tuesday’s $1.7 trillion appropriations bill to power the government through September would extend that authority further to March 9, 2023.

Experts and FCC officials have warned about letting lapse the commission’s authority to auction the valuable airwaves, which power wireless communications services.

Meanwhile, a bill introduced earlier this year, would extend the commission’s authority to March 31, 2024.

TikTok ban on government devices

The omnibus bill also includes a ban on video sharing app TikTok on government devices, cited in the bill as the “No TikTok on Government Devices Act.” The Chinese-owned company has been flagged as a possible national security threat because of its ties to the Chinese Communist government.

The provision requires that not later than 60 days after the bill’s enactment, the director of the Office of Management and Budget, in consultation with relevant agencies, “develop standards and guidelines for executive agencies requiring the removal of any covered application from information technology.”

The ban also covers any further apps developed or owned by TikTok parent company ByteDance.

Earlier this month, Maryland moved to eliminate the app from government devices and networks.

Consumer protection, cybersecurity measures

The sprawling bill also includes a provision to establish a national standard for online seller transparency and require the Federal Trade Commission to report on cross-border cyber attacks.

Rep. Frank Pallone, D-NJ., and Jan Schakowsky, D-IL., advocated for enhanced protections in the bill that puts the FTC at its center. That includes a Schakowsky-authored provision establishing a national standard – enforced by the competition agency and state attorneys general – that requires online platforms to verify the identity of high-volume third-party sellers so that consumers can get basic identification on the sellers.

Another provision, also authored by Schakowsky — chair of the Consumer Protection and Commerce Subcommittee — would require the FTC to report on cross-border complaints about ransomware and other cyber attacked committed by foreign individuals, companies and governments, specifically Russia, China, North Korea, and Iran.

Over the past two years, the U.S. has been the subject of major cyberattacks that struck financial services, oil transport, and software companies.

“This end-of-year package is in lock step with our Committee’s commitment to put consumers first,” said the representatives in a joint statement. “It includes legislation that will help curb the onslaught of counterfeit, defective, and unsafe products available to Americans shopping on third-party e-commerce sites—a major source of fake and unsafe goods. It also includes commonsense provisions to keep dangerous furniture products that can tip over on small children off the market and out of our homes.”

Congress is reportedly pushing for the passing of the bill before Christmas.

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Infrastructure

Regulatory Barriers Could Hinder Broadband Deployment, Senate Hearing Panelists Say

Panelists sought streamlined permitting processes on federal lands and in local communities, and reasonably priced pole access.

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Screenshot of Michael Powell, president and CEO of NCTA – The Internet & Television Association

WASHINGTON, December 13, 2022 – Onerous permitting regimes and other regulatory barriers could significantly hamper broadband deployment projects, executives from leading trade groups told the Senate Subcommittee on Communications, Media, and Broadband on Tuesday.

Preparing to monitor the administrative state’s distribution of the largest American broadband investment to date, the subcommittee’s members asked the witness panel how government can facilitate the effective deployment of funds. The largest slice is the $42.5 Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment program, managed by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration.

Michael Powell, president and CEO of NCTA – The Internet & Television Association and former chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, advocated streamlining permitting processes on federal lands and in local communities as well as ensuring reasonably priced pole access for broadband providers. Powell argued that entities exempt from federal pole-attachment rate regulations – which include cooperatives and municipalities – are incentivized to raise prices to ward off potential competitors in the broadband market.

Often, on federal lands, multiple agencies will claim the permitting authority, Powell said. Federal permitting fees are often exorbitant, he continued, and navigating these processes can “add years and years to a (company’s) commitment to build.

“These kinds of programs always have a tendency to attract layered-on regulatory requirements that are tangential to the mission of the program,” Powell said. “The consequence of that is it creates more complexity, additional burden, and raises the cost of an already fragile cost model.”

Congress should make broadband grants non-taxable, said Jonathan Spalter, president and CEO of US Telecom. The Broadband Grant Tax Treatment Act would do so for Infrastructure, Investment and Jobs Act and American Rescue Plan Act grants. According to some on Capitol Hill, Congress may pass the bill by year’s end.

Powell and Spalter argued that poor communication between the myriad agencies that oversee federal broadband initiatives obscures which eligible areas have already received federal funding – to the detriment of industry players. “One of the challenges for regulators is to ruthlessly attempt to harmonize criteria…across these programs and make sure all take cognizance of the other[s] as they make their decisions,” Powell said.

Spalter suggested a certification process through which agencies would be required to confirm that new grants are not issued to already-funded locations. Panelists and senators voiced concerns about redundantly allocated federal funds at several points in the hearing.

Lujan on Build America, Buy America and workforce issues

The NTIA’s guidelines for the BEAD program mandate compliance with the Build America, Buy America Act, which favors domestic manufacturing and, according to many experts, raises prices on goods necessary for broadband deployment. In response to economic pressures, the NTIA proposed waiving this requirement for the Middle Mile grant program, and many have urged the agency to institute a waiver for the BEAD program.

“We should always strive to encourage more manufacturing here in the United States with both onshoring and near-shoring,” subcommittee Chairman Ben Ray Lujan, D-N.M., told Broadband Breakfast after the hearing. “Democratic and Republican members have pushed for and have fought for the inclusion of equipment made in America,” he added.

Some have also criticized the NTIA’s worker-related policies, which, they say, will artificially drive up the cost of labor and network deployments. “The rules that are being applied by NTIA reflect the importance of having people…work in a way that they’re able to take care of themselves as well,” Lujan said. He further called on Congress to address potential workforce shortages – a concern of many industry players.

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