The Federal Communications Commission is asking for input on its congressional mandate to coordinate tens of billions of dollars of government money in various broadband subsidy programs with the National Telecommunications & Information Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The NTIA, the White House’s chief telecom policy arm, has been charged with handing out most of the $65 billion worth of infrastructure-related broadband buildout money, but the FCC also hands out billions of dollars through various Universal Service Fund subsidies as well as telehealth and distance learning money related to the COVID-19 pandemic. USDA gives out money through the Rural Utilities Service.
The FCC’s Wireline Communications Bureau wants comment by August 16 on its interagency coordination agreement, which will be factored into a mandated report to Congress.
Under the direction of statute, which calls for the answers to some specific questions, the FCC's Wireline Competition Bureau, which issued the request for comment, wants to hear specifically about the agreement’s effectiveness in making sure the funds are distributed efficiently. One big issue: Congress wants to ensure there is no duplicative funding.
The FCC (read Congress) also wants to know how much deployment availability data from states, localities and tribal areas is available; how much of that is being used in interagency coordination; and what, if any, modifications are needed to improve coordination.
In May, the FCC, NTIA and USDA agreed to share and standardize their broadband data.
At times, particularly under the Trump administration, the FCC and NTIA would not have scored high marks in that “getting along well with others” checkbox on elementary school report cards, particularly over the issue of freeing up government spectrum by sharing it with commercial users. That was particularly the case when it comes to spectrum-sharing by commercial aviation operators and 5G WiFi providers.
Even before the infrastructure legislation mandated a formal agreement, though, FCC chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel and new NTIA administrator Alan Davidson were talking regularly, according to the FCC.
The Government Accountability Office has suggested there is a broadband coordination deficit that requires more than an agreement to play nice among the three agencies.
In a report earlier this month, GAO said Congress needs to come up with a national broadband plan to rectify what it says is a “fragmented, overlapping patchwork” of broadband accessibility funding, though the White House has not decided whether it plans to do that or not. ▪️
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Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.