President's Budget: $7B for FirstNet, Full Funding For CPB, Spectrum Fees Are Back

The President's just-released 2015 budget provides $7 billion to fund interoperable public safety broadband network FirstNet, which money is being raised for in the three spectrum auctions, ending with the broadcaster spectrum auction in mid-2015. It also, once again, includes the spectrum fee authority.

Per past budgets, the White House again proposes to give the FCC new authority to impose user fees on "unauctioned spectrum licenses based on spectrum-management principles." That has appeared before but has never made it into law or practice.

The National Telecommunications & Information Administration is also getting $7.5 million for a new Internet Policy Center, that it says "will enhance the Department of Commerce's coordination and policymaking across broadband stakeholders."

A Department of Commerce spokesperson had not responded to a request for comment at press time on just what policy that center would be coordinating, and with whom, but NTIA has been charged with helping free up 500 MHZ for wireless broadband spectrum for commercial use.

There is also a $200 million investment in digital education for teachers, saying it is a complement to the FCC's pledge to connect more than 20 million students in 15,000 schools to next-generation broadband over the next two years.

The budget also earmarks $680 million to the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) laboratories for R&D on, among other things, "advanced manufacturing, forensics, cybersecurity and disaster resilience."

Congress must eventually vote to approve, or not, the President's various fiscal plans as proposed.

The Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which is always being targeted by some in Congress for funding cuts or phase-outs, will get the full $455 million it asked for for 2016. (It is forward funded to try to keep politics out of the decision). But it can't celebrate, at least not on the government's dime. "None of the funds made available to CPB by this Act shall be used to pay for receptions, parties, or similar forms of entertainment for Government officials or employees," the budget makes clear.

John Eggerton

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.