Government Relations Update July 2020
House Passes Appropriations Packages
The House of Representatives has now passed two appropriations packages (H.R. 7608 and H.R. 7617) accounting for 10 of the 12 annual funding bills Congress must pass before the end of the fiscal year on September 30, 2020. Included among the provisions are funding increases for the National Science Foundation (NSF), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and National Institutes of Health (NIH). The bills increase funding in these areas by $270 million, $101.9 million, and $5.5 billion respectively.
Additionally, $60 billion of funding is directed to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to distribute grants "to providers of broadband internet access service to expand availability of such service to unserved areas, underserved areas, and unserved anchor institutions." The bill does not address which entities would be eligible to receive funding.
The Senate has yet to pass any appropriations legislation, as none has been advanced through the Senate Appropriations Committee. While Congress may complete the full appropriations process on time, the possibility remains that Continuing Resolutions may be necessary to cover some or all areas of federal funding for the coming fiscal year.
NTIA Takes Action on Tech Liability Shield
On July 27, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) filed a petition for rulemaking with the FCC to clarify the provisions of section 230 of the Communications Act of 1934. NTIA has taken this action pursuant to an Executive Order (EO 13925) issued in May directing a review of the rules governing the liability protections afforded to online platforms. The FCC currently is reviewing the petition and will make a determination as to whether it should initiate the requested rulemaking process to provide NTIA and the White House with an interpretation of the framework provided by section 230.
FCC Commissioner’s Renomination Withdrawn
The White House has withdrawn FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly’s renomination from consideration by the Senate. O’Rielly’s term as Commissioner expired on June 30, 2019, although he had continued to serve until a replacement was confirmed or his own renomination was successfully advanced through the Senate. However, with the withdrawal of his renomination, he is forbidden by statute from remaining in his post beyond January 3, 2021, when the 117th Congress will be sworn in. It likely will be difficult for the Senate to confirm a replacement before that time given other legislative priorities. The White House has not yet made an official statement as to why the renomination was withdrawn.