Government Relations Update February 2018
White House Releases Full Infrastructure Plan
The final version of the long anticipated White House infrastructure proposal was released this month. In a 53-page document, the administration laid out its priorities for future infrastructure legislation and its vision for turning $200 billion of federal funding into $1.5 trillion of investment from state and local governments and private entities. The plan calls for spending $20 billion a year for 10 years, with an expectation that these funds will leverage additional investments. While there is no funding specifically allocated for broadband in the proposal, broadband projects are eligible for funding under several elements of the plan. Ultimately, it will be up to Congress to decide how to translate this proposal into federal legislation.
The following are the five main pillars of the plan:
- Infrastructure Incentive Program: Establishes $100 billion in matching funds to be made available to states and cities for new infrastructure projects. Funding for this pool of money is limited to surface transportation and airports, passenger rail, ports and waterways, flood control, water supply, hydropower, water resources, drinking water facilities, wastewater facilities, storm water facilities, and Brownfield and Superfund sites.
- Rural Infrastructure Program: Sets aside $50 billion for a rural block grant program for capital investments in rural infrastructure investments. 80 percent of funds will be allocated to state governors to distribute; the remaining 20 percent would be delivered through a grant program. “Rural” is defined as communities with a population of 50,000 or less. Broadband (and other high-speed data and communication conduits) is eligible.
- Transformative Projects Program: Creates a $20 billion fund for “projects of national significance,” meaning projects that are “ambitious, exploratory, and ground-breaking project ideas that have significantly more risk than standard infrastructure projects, but offer a much larger reward profile.” The broadband sector is identified as eligible.
- Infrastructure Financing Programs: Dedicates $20 billion to advance major, complex infrastructure projects by increasing the capacity of existing Federal credit programs to fund investments and by broadening the use of Private Activity Bonds (PABs). Proposal expands PAB eligibility with the new category of rural broadband service facilities.
- Lastly, the proposal also provides for a $10 billion capital financing program that would fund the construction of federal office buildings and similar infrastructure for government use.
White House Budget Released
This month, the White House released its annual budget request to Congress, highlighting the administration’s priorities for the coming year. Due to changes implemented by a bipartisan budget agreement the week before the release of the President’s Budget, the Office of Management and Budget also released an addendum adjusting some figures presented in the official document. As with last year’s budget, the administration calls for large cuts for domestic spending paired with significant increases in defense spending. Several agencies of note are the target of significant proposed cuts, including NOAA ($1 billion cut), USDA’s Rural Utilities Service ($1.5 billion cut), and IMLS ($200 million cut as the first phase of closing the agency permanently). However, the budget leaves many agencies untouched or grants them increased budgets; NIH is slated for an $800 million budgetary increase, while ESnet, at the Department of Energy, would receive an additional $11 million to fund a full network upgrade.
FCC Releases New National Broadband Map
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) released an updated interactive nationwide broadband map to assist policymakers and others in assessing the state of high-speed internet access around the country. The new cloud-based map provides information on fixed service deployments, which can be updated more frequently than past versions of the map, according to the FCC. This version currently uses data from December 2016 Form 477 filings from Internet service providers nationwide. It is expected that 2017 data will be incorporated by this summer.
Court Upholds FTC Authority
An en banc panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled unanimously in favor of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), stating that it has jurisdiction over the non-common-carrier activities of common carrier entities, such as AT&T. This upheld a previous ruling by the district court in this matter. The Ninth Circuit’s decision is seen as a victory for those concerned with net neutrality issues, as the FCC’s December 2017 Restoring Internet Freedom Order placed responsibility for regulation and oversight of Internet service providers primarily in the hands of the FTC.
On February 22, the FCC published the “Restoring Internet Freedom” order in the Federal Register. Congress may now consider its review under the Congressional Review Act and challenges are currently underway in the court system.