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Government Relations Update May 2020

Posted on Jun 12, 2020 by Matthew Hall
Tags: External Relations, Federal Government

House Passes $3 Trillion Relief Bill

On May 15, the House voted 208-199 on largely party lines to pass the HEROES Act (H.R. 6800). This bill offers nearly $3 trillion in stimulus spending to provide additional relief to a wide range of sectors impacted by COVID-19. Almost $1 trillion of that funding is directed to state, local, tribal, and territorial governments. Included in the bill is funding for several scientific, educational, and broadband priorities. While this bill is not expected to be voted on by the Senate, it represents the priorities House Democrats intend to advocate for in future negotiations with the Republican-controlled Senate and the Administration on any additional bi-partisan COVID-19 relief legislation that may be developed in the weeks ahead.

Among the scientific and educational funding priorities, the National Science Foundation would receive $125 million for "research and related activities" to be used "to prevent, prepare for, and respond to coronavirus, including to fund research grants." The National Institutes of Health (NIH) would receive $4.75 billion to expand COVID-19-related research on the NIH campus and at academic institutions across the country, as well as to support costs related to the shutdown and startup of biomedical research laboratories. Of this amount, up to approximately $1 billion would be used "to support additional scientific research or the programs and platforms that support research."

The Department of Education would receive $90 billion for a State Fiscal Stabilization Fund for grants to states to support statewide and local funding for elementary and secondary schools as well as public postsecondary institutions. The Department also would receive an additional $10.15 billion specifically to support higher education. Eligible uses of these funds include defraying expenses for "technology costs associated with a transition to distance education" and "faculty and staff trainings."

Broadband provisions in the bill include $1.5 billion to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for an Emergency Connectivity Fund to provide "Wi-Fi hotspots, other equipment, connected devices, and advanced telecommunications and information services to schools and libraries." Additionally, the FCC would receive $4 billion for an Emergency Broadband Connectivity Fund to provide "an emergency benefit for broadband service."

CARES Act Funding for HBCUs Becomes Available

On March 27, the CARES Act (P.L. 116-136) was signed into law. This legislation provided $30.75 billion to the Department of Education for the Education Stabilization Fund to distribute to educational institutions and agencies nationwide, including $14.5 billion for the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF).

On April 30, Secretary DeVos announced that $577 million of these funds would begin to be available specifically to Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs).

Per the Secretary's guidance, among other purposes "institutions may also use these funds to defray institutional expenses" which "may include lost revenue, reimbursement for expenses already incurred, technology costs associated with the transition to distance education, faculty and staff training, and payroll."

Additionally, in her announcement of the funding, the Secretary stated, "While I know you face many challenges arising from the COVID-19 pandemic, I encourage you to use these awards to expand your remote learning programs and build your IT capacity. These activities will help ensure that learning can continue for your students during the Nation’s recovery from the coronavirus pandemic and strengthen your position to support continued learning in the future."

Both private institutions of higher education and Public and State controlled institutions of higher education designated as HBCUs are eligible to apply for funding under this opportunity.

Interested applicants must complete three steps to apply for funding under this opportunity:

  1. Complete the Recipient's Funding Certification and Agreement form.
  2. Complete the Application for Federal Assistance (SF-424).
  3. Complete the Department of Education Supplemental Information Form for the SF-424.

Links to download the SF-424 and Supplemental Information to SF-424 forms, as well as instructions for their completion are available.

Additional information about the program and application process is also available.
Instructions for the submission of required application forms are also available.
The official opportunity page is available.

All applications are due by August 1.

President Signs Executive Order on Tech Liability Protections 

On May 28, President Trump signed an Executive Order titled "Preventing Online Censorship" (EO 13925). The Order primarily focuses on Section 230(c) of the Communications Decency Act (47 U.S.C. 230), which provides the framework for the legal liability protections currently shielding many online platforms. The official policy of the U.S. now is to clarify "the scope of that immunity" by directing the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) to file a petition for rulemaking within 60 days with the FCC to draft new regulations on three issues:

  1. The extent to which an online platform may retain liability protection when it actively engages in the policing or editing of content posted on their platform by a third party.
  2. An examination of the meaning of actions "taken in good faith" by a platform in the management of hosted content; in particular, clarification regarding whether advance warning by the platform and an opportunity for appeal on the part of the content poster is necessary.
  3. Any other proposed regulations that the NTIA concludes may be appropriate to promote free and open debate on the internet.

The potential impacts for the tech industry of this forthcoming rulemaking process are uncertain but the Order is likely to be challenged in court.