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BUDGET

Wireless Broadband A Priority For Administration

Expanding wireless broadband coverage to 98 percent of Americans remains a key priority for the Obama administration in its fiscal year 2013 budget proposal.

To help do this, President Obama has proposed a boost in funding for the Federal Communications Commission and the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration, two agencies leading an effort to increase the availability of spectrum needed to help expand wireless broadband to most Americans. Some of this new spectrum would come from giving the FCC new authority to auction off spectrum wheedled out of broadcasters.

 

The administration projects it can generate as much as $21 billion to help pay down the deficit with these auctions -- nearly $5 billion more than the highest estimate from Congress.

The Obama administration has proposed $346.7 million for the FCC in fiscal year 2013, a small increase over the $339.8 million it got from Congress in 2012. While the FCC generates its own funding from licenses and other regulatory fees, congressional appropriators get to decide how much money the commission can keep and spend for its own operations.

Lawmakers have sought in recent years to use this power to keep the commission from enacting certain policies. Last year, the House tried to block the FCC from implementing its controversial net neutrality proposal but the language was ultimately stripped in the final appropriations bill passed by Congress in December.

 

The administration is once again proposing that the FCC be given new authority to impose fees on spectrum license holders, a proposal it estimates would generate $4.8 billion over the next decade. The proposal, however, has garnered little interest from Congress in past years.

The budget plan also calls for extending the FCC’s authority to conduct spectrum auctions indefinitely. The FCC’s current auction authority expires on Sept. 30. Spectrum legislation approved by the House late last year, which may get included in a final payroll tax cut deal, would only extend such authority until 2021. 

NTIA, the FCC’s partner in efforts to free up more spectrum for wireless broadband, also would see a slight boost in funding for 2013. The budget proposes $46.9 million for the agency, a small increase over the $45.5 million Congress appropriated for this year. NTIA is in charge of managing the nation’s spectrum holdings and is currently working to meet the president’s goal of freeing up 500 megahertz in new spectrum over the next decade.

The NTIA also played a key role in distributing more than $4 billion in grants to spur broadband access and adoption. The administration is calling for $27 million so the NTIA can continue oversight of the broadband grant program.

 

Meanwhile, it looks like the Federal Trade Commission fell victim to the administration’s budget cutting efforts. The White House is requesting $300 million for the commission in fiscal 2013, about $11 million less than Congress provided for the current fiscal year. The agency is tasked with ensuring companies do not engage in deceptive or anticompetitive practices. It is currently investigating allegations that Google puts rivals at a disadvantage by promoting its own products and services in its search rankings.

“This budget will permit the FTC to continue to meet the increasing challenges of its goals to protect consumers and maintain competition,” FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz said in letter to Congress accompanying its budget request.

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