Government Relations Update July 2018
RUS Seeks Comment on Broadband Connectivity Pilot
The Rural Utilities Service (RUS) has released a notice of inquiry (NOI) on the e-Connectivity Pilot created by the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2018, which Congress passed in March 2018. The legislation provides $600 million for a new grant and loan program operated by RUS. Planning for the structure of the program has been underway since the bill was signed into law, but the NOI seeks to address three specific areas in an effort to better shape the pilot initiative. First, RUS requests input to determine how to best define what constitutes “sufficient access” for potential end users affected by the program. Second, RUS seeks comments on how to evaluate the success of funded projects, specifically the sources of data that would best serve this effort. Finally, RUS calls for information on effective methods of measuring the potential benefits of federal broadband investments on health care, education, agriculture, and other sectors. Comments are due by September 10, 2018.
Broadband Coordination, Expansion Bills Pass House
The House has passed two bills aimed at improving information gathering and distribution efforts as well as the movement of existing federal funds to support broadband expansion. These bills were among many considered by the House Energy and Commerce Committee earlier this year as part of an effort to continue addressing the connectivity gap outside of a potential comprehensive infrastructure package, which has yet to take shape.
The ACCESS BROADBAND Act (H.R. 3994) would establish an office of Internet Connectivity and Growth at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration to coordinate and track federal funding for broadband across all agencies. This office would streamline the process of applying for federal funding for projects that expand broadband access.
The Precision Agriculture Connectivity Act (H.R. 4881) would require the FCC, in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, to form a task force to evaluate the best ways to meet the broadband needs of precision agriculture in the United States. The task force would focus on identifying and measuring gaps in broadband coverage, and developing policy recommendations to promote rapid, expanded deployment of broadband in agricultural areas.
House Passes Legislation Funding FCC
On July 19th, the House of Representatives passed the Interior, Environment, Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Act of 2019 (H.R. 6147), which contains funding for several agencies, including the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). The bill funds the FCC at $335 million for FY2019, an increase of $13 million over FY2018 funding. In the report accompanying the relevant portions of the bill, the House Appropriations Committee strongly encouraged the FCC to “continue working with the Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC) to allocate Universal Service Funds (USF) for broadband expansion in rural and economically disadvantaged areas.” The committee highlighted that programs like these serve to drive economic development, jobs, and new education opportunities and that the committee “expects the Commission to prioritize these efforts.”