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McCain’s Absence Means Democrats’ Net Neutrality Bill Expected To Pass 50-49

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WASHINGTON, May 16, 2018 — The absence of Arizona Senator John McCain (R) from the Senate means Democrats appear to have enough votes to pass a bill to roll back the Federal Communications Commission’s repeal of network neutrality rules put in place under the Obama administration, 50-49.

Without McCain, who remains at home in Arizona while undergoing treatment for brain cancer, the Senate’s 49 Democrats can count on 50 votes thanks to the support of Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, for S.J. Res. 52, a so-called resolution of disapproval making use of procedures laid out under the 1996 Congressional Review Act to roll back rules the FCC approved in December to repeal regulations put in place under then-chairman Tom Wheeler (D).

Those regulations, formally known as net neutrality rules, prohibit broadband providers like Comcast and Verizon from interfering with users’ internet traffic or prioritizing some traffic over others. Under Wheeler, the FCC did this by classifying broadband internet access services as common carriers under Title II of the Communications Act. Their repeal was a priority for the current Republican FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, who has long opposed strong net neutrality protections.

Collins was instumental in getting Democrats’ bill to the floor

Collins’ support for the bill allowed Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., to force his Republican counterpart, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., to bring the Democrat-sponsored bill to the floor using a rarely-used parliamentary maneuver called a discharge petition.

Although most legislation requires 60 Senators to vote to end debate on a bill before it can receive an up-or-down majority vote, resolutions under the Congressional Review Act resolutions cannot be filibustered, meaning only 51 votes are required for passage in the Senate.

Passage will be a victory for Senate Dems, but the effort’s future beyond that is unclear

The fight to restore the Obama-era net neutrality rules will now depend on two very different politicians: House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and President Trump

Pelosi’s skill at holding her caucus together will be key as the fight moves to the House of Representatives, where Democrats face an uphill battle in gathering enough Republican support to force House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., to hold a vote on a companion to Markey’s bill sponsored by Rep. Mike Doyle, D-Pa.

While the bill’s passage would represent a major — and rare — victory for a Democratic caucus that has struggled to make headway against President Donald Trump’s efforts to roll back Obama-era regulations, it would also be a rare rebuke to Trump, who has made what his former strategist Steve Bannon called “deconstruction of the administrative state” a major priority.

While Trump has relished the opportunity to sign 15 CRA resolutions since he took office last year — more than all other presidents combined — it’s not known whether he’d sign a 16th if it would restore a regulation promulgated under his predecessor.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was noncommittal last week when asked if President Trump would be amenable to allowing the Democrat-backed bill to become law.

“We’ll keep you posted when we have a specific policy announcement on that front,” she said.

Making Trump’s approval more unlikely is the fact that White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders gave FCC Chairman Pai’s efforts to roll back the Obama-era net neutrality rules the White House’s imprimatur last year during a July press briefing.

“We support the FCC chair’s efforts to review and consider rolling back these rules, and believe that the best way to get fair rules for everyone is for Congress to take action and create regulatory and economic certainty,” she said.”

The future remains clouded but Democrats will still celebrate

Nevertheless, Democrats are planning to enjoy the rare opportunity to strut a bit by holding a press conference after the Senate finishes voting today at around 3 this afternoon, which a source close to Markey said would also serve to highlight House Democrats’ ongoing efforts.

Those expected to speak include Markey, along with Minority Leader Schumer, Sens. Maria Cantwell and Brian Schatz of Washington and Hawaii, respectively.

They will also be joined by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., along with Doyle and Reps. Anna Eshoo, D-Calif., Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., who are leading the effort to bring Doyle’s bill to the House floor.

While the Senate effort was made more urgent because of a need to pass Markey’s bill before the end of a 60-day period during which it could be considered, House Democrats have until the end of the 115th Congress’ second session to finish the job.

(creative commons photo: President Donald Trump and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.)

Andrew Feinberg is the White House Correspondent and Managing Editor for Breakfast Media. He rejoined BroadbandBreakfast.com in late 2016 after working as a staff writer at The Hill and as a freelance writer. He worked at BroadbandBreakfast.com from its founding in 2008 to 2010, first as a Reporter and then as Deputy Editor. He also covered the White House for Russia's Sputnik News from the beginning of the Trump Administration until he was let go for refusing to use White House press briefings to promote conspiracy theories, and later documented the experience in a story which set off a chain of events leading to Sputnik being forced to register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act. Andrew's work has appeared in such publications as The Hill, Politico, Communications Daily, Washington Internet Daily, Washington Business Journal, The Sentinel Newspapers, FastCompany.TV, Mashable, and Silicon Angle.

Congress

With Congress Debating Trillions, a Community Guide to Federal Broadband Funding

Muninetworks.org has put together a handy overview of broadband programs – current and pending.

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Photo from office of Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Wash.

September 30, 2021 – In response to the Covid-19 pandemic, Congress and the Biden Administration passed two federal stimulus relief packages with historic levels of funding for programs devoted to advancing digital equity – the American Rescue Plan Act and the Consolidated Appropriations Act.

In early August, legislators in the U.S. Senate passed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, a $1.2 trillion infrastructure package which continues many of the federal programs started by previous relief packages and includes $65 billion more for expanding high-speed Internet infrastructure and connectivity. Members of Congress returned from their summer break on September 20th and U.S. House Representatives are expected to vote on the infrastructure relief bill, which enjoys bipartisan support, on September 30th.

This guide consolidates the different funding opportunities made available through various relief packages to assist communities interested in accessing federal funds to expand broadband infrastructure and digital inclusion services. It updates ILSR’s Community Guide to Broadband Funding released in April of 2021, which describes programs established under ARPA and CAA in more detail, provides additional resources and answers FAQs.

Important upcoming deadlines are bolded throughout this guide.

Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act – Pending 

Though the legislation is pending in Congress, the version of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act passed by the U.S. Senate in August of 2021 includes $65 billion for expanding Internet access and digital inclusion initiatives. The Senate bill takes a more holistic approach to addressing the digital divide than previous relief packages, as it includes historic levels of funding for digital skills training. Of the $65 billion:

  • $42.5 billion is being issued as block grants to states to fund the deployment of broadband infrastructure in “unserved” and “underserved” parts of the country. Funds can also be utilized to deploy affordable networks to low-income, multi-dwelling units (MDUs). Block grants of at least $100 million are reserved for all states.
  • $14.2 billion is devoted to extending and making permanent the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program established under the Consolidated Appropriations Act. The name of the program will change to the Affordable Connectivity Program, the monthly stipend offered will be reduced to $30 a month maximum in most cases, and eligibility for the program will increase to include households within 200 percent of the poverty line.
  • $2.75 billion will go to NTIA to establish programs promoting digital inclusion initiatives for communities which lack the skills, technologies and support necessary to take advantage of Internet connections. Of the $2.75 billion, $1.25 billion ($250 million a year for 5 years) is allocated for a competitive grant program, $60 million is for state planning grants, and $1.44 billion is for state implementation grants.
  • $2 billion will extend the Tribal Connectivity Program administered by NTIA, established under the Consolidated Appropriations Act.
  • $2 billion for USDA’s ReConnect Loan and Grant Program to deploy broadband to rural areas.
  • $1 billion will go to NTIA to create a grant program to expand access to middle-mile infrastructure.
  • $600 million will finance private activity bonds to fund broadband projects in partnership with the private sector.

As this legislation is pending, the rules and deadlines for these programs have yet to be established. A bipartisan federal infrastructure package is expected to pass Congress in the next two months. In the meantime, check out ILSR’s recent piece deciphering broadband provisions in the U.S. Senate infrastructure bill, Broadband Infrastructure Bill: The Good, The Bad & The Ugly.

Resources:

American Rescue Plan Act – Enacted March 2021

With the American Rescue Plan Act, the federal government specifically recognized and began to address critical infrastructure and connectivity needs across the country, and provided billions to states, municipalities, and counties to expand broadband infrastructure. The federal broadband programs introduced under the Rescue Plan required eligible projects to deliver higher-speed Internet connections than the federal government has required in the past, and also placed an emphasis on funding futureproof fiber infrastructure for the first time. The American Rescue Plan appropriated:

1. $350 billion to the Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Fund – aid sent directly to states, counties, local municipalities and Tribal governments eligible to be used to make necessary investments in water, sewer, and broadband infrastructure.

Funding Guidance:

  • Eligible broadband projects are expected to be designed to deliver Internet service that reliably meets or exceeds symmetrical upload and download speeds of 100 Mbps. In areas where the geography makes this speed benchmark impractical to obtain, projects are expected to deliver Internet service that reliably meets or exceeds 100 Mbps download and between at least 20 Mbps and 100 Mbps upload speeds.

Deadlines:

  • Communities have a relatively long window of time to expand broadband infrastructure with these funds. Though communities must allocate the funds by December 2024, broadband projects do not have to be completed until December 2026.
  • The first payment was distributed to localities earlier this summer. The U.S. Treasury is required to distribute the second payment 12 months after the first.

Resources:

2. $10 billion to the Coronavirus Capital Projects Fund – aid issued in the form of state block grants to states, territories, and Tribes to cover the costs of capital projects like broadband infrastructure, and provide funding for connectivity devices and equipment. The focus of the Capital Projects Fund is confronting the need for improved broadband connectivity which was exposed during the pandemic. Capital projects must focus on enabling work, education, and health monitoring, including remote options.

Funding Guidance:

  • The guidelines for this program urge states to pursue “projects that involve broadband networks owned, operated by or affiliated with local governments, nonprofits and cooperatives — providers with less pressure to generate profits and with a commitment to serving entire communities.”
  • Although this is not a competitive grant program, states, territories, and freely associated states must submit an Application and a Grant Plan for their allocation of the Capital Projects Fund through the Treasury Submission Portal; for Tribal Governments, the Application also serves as their Grant Plan.
  • $9.8 billion is available to states through the Capital Projects Fund; $100 million is available to Tribes; $100 million is available to freely associated states.
  • Although local governments are ineligible to be direct recipients of these grants, states can suballocate a portion of their award to local governments, nonprofits and private entities.
  • Read more about eligible projects and grant processes here [pdf].

Deadlines:

  • The Treasury Portal for the fund opened on September 24. Applicants will have the ability to apply through December 24, 2021. Once funds are awarded, eligible entities will be able to use them through December 31, 2026.

Resources:

3. $7.17 billion to the FCC’s Emergency Connectivity Fund – federal program to assist schools and libraries as they transition to remote learning by partially funding the cost of Internet services and eligible equipment.

Deadlines:

  • The initial ECF Program application filing window closed on August 13. Due to demand, a second filing window will open on September 28 and run until October 13.

Resources:

Consolidated Appropriations Act – Enacted December 2020

The Consolidated Appropriations Act directed the FCC to establish the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program and directed NTIA to implement three new broadband grant programs. The federal government addressed broadband affordability for the first time with this relief package. CAA appropriated:

1. $3.2 billion to FCC’s Emergency Broadband Benefit Program – federal program providing $50 to $75/month subsidies for monthly Internet service to eligible households. Internet plans regularly costing less than $50 per month will be free to eligible subscribers. If the participating ISP chooses to provide devices, eligible households can also receive a one-time discount of up to $100 to purchase a laptop, desktop computer, or tablet from providers.

Deadlines:

  • Enrollment for the program began in May of 2021. Funding for the program has not run out and eligible households can continue to access the program today. Learn how to apply here.
  • The program will be indefinitely extended if the pending infrastructure package passes Congress.

Resources:

2. $268 million to NTIA’s Connecting Minority Communities Pilot Program – grants available to Black colleges and universities (HBCUs), Tribal colleges and universities (TCUs), Minority-serving institutions (MSIs), and consortiums led by an HBCU, TCU, or MSI including a minority business enterprise or a nonprofit organization in the surrounding community. Eligible equipment includes Wi-Fi hotspots, modems, routers, laptops, tablets, and other Internet-connected devices.

3. $300 million to NTIA’s Broadband Infrastructure Program – grants available to partnerships between states, local jurisdictions, and ISPs to expand fixed broadband service in unserved areas.

4. $980 million to NTIA’s Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program – grants available to Tribal governments and organizations to improve broadband infrastructure.

  • The initial application filing window closed on September 1. The timeline for the program may be extended if the pending federal infrastructure package passes Congress.
  • See NOFO here.
  • NTIA Program Overview Webpage

Editor’s Note: This piece was authored by Jericho Casper, a reporter for the Institute for Local Self Reliance’s Community Broadband Network Initiative. Originally appearing at MuniNetworks.org on September 28, 2021, the piece is republished with permission.

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Congress

House Democrats Fight Against Anti-Crypto Measures in Senate-Passed Infrastructure Bill

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Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Calif.

August 20, 2021 – Pro-crypto House Democrats pushed back against the Senate Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act’s inclusion of crypto regulatory language, seeking to make it less broad.

The additions of cryptocurrency taxes aim to generate revenue to pay for part of the infrastructure spending. Its authors intended to reduce fraud in reports to the IRS.

Democratic California Reps. Ro Khanna, Eric Swalwell, and Anna Eshoo joined cryptocurrency enthusiasts Rep. Bill Foster, D-Illinois, and Rep. Darren Soto, D-Fla., in urging to amend the infrastructure bill in the House.

In a letter released on August 12, Eshoo advocated to Pelosi that the House should “amend the problematic broker definition,” describing the existing language as “imposing unworkable regulations.”

But there is some feeling that amendments to the bill in the House may not be necessary. According to a Treasury Department official, the agency plans to clarify its definition of a “broker” to be more specific.

Any amendments to the House would force the infrastructure measure back to the Senate.

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Digital Inclusion

Senators Reintroduce Bipartisan Digital Equity Act

Sen. Murray re-introduces bi-partisan that would provide grants to states pushing for digital equity.

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Patty Murray, D-Washington

June 14, 2021– Three Senators have introduced legislation that would provide grants to states that create digital equity plans.

The proposed legislation, reintroduced on Thursday by Patty Murray, D-Washington, Rob Portman, R-Ohio, and Angus King, I-Maine, would set-aside $60 million to establish a State Digital Equity Capacity Grant within the Department of Commerce that would “promote the achievement of digital equity, support digital inclusion activities, and build capacity for efforts by States relating to the adoption of broadband by residents of those States.”

The funds from the Digital Equity Act in the Senate would be made available to all states, foundations, corporations, institutions, or agencies. The bill was first introduced by Murray in 2019.

Each state will receive a different grant amount depending on a formula that includes population and access to broadband across the state, to be spent within 5 years of receipt.

In addition to funding for states, the bill creates a  $125-million Digital Equity Competitive Grant Program. This program is also for state agencies and institutions but is more specifically geared toward those that are responsible for “adult education and literacy activities.”

Infrastructure portion

A final pillar of the bill is to create more infrastructure and resources for future development of policies that will continue to promote a bridging of the digital divide.

During a press conference on the bill, Murray told the Broadband Breakfast that she believes the bill will be successful because it gives states and local communities the ability to decide what their needs are. “We cannot dictate that in D.C.,” she remarked.

When asked why the bill will create more permanent solutions, she stated that it, “Provides for the diversity of needs that are going to continue to be out there.”

The senators co-sponsoring the bill said they are confident it will make its way into any infrastructure legislation passed by Congress.

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