President Obama’s latest budget indicates that the White House is playing a larger role in shaping telecommunications policy than ever before. And while some of its positions dovetail with the Federal Communications Commission’s agenda, others don’t.
Regarding the FCC’s annual budget, the administration proposes that the agency receive $354 million in fiscal 2012, an increase of $18 million over its current operating budget, an FCC official said. Although the budget technically recommends $358.8 million for the commission, that number includes $3.9 million in FY 2011 pay increases that were frozen, the official explained.
Meanwhile, the president's plan makes an important recommendation that could bolster regulatory initiatives spearheaded by FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski: Obama calls for spending $5 billion to help the agency overhaul the Universal Service Fund, a federal program that subsidizes phone bills in rural and impoverished areas. Genachowski wants to redirect the subsidies toward reducing costs associated with broadband deployment and adoption. The expenditure would be funded through savings that would result from a multiyear overhaul of the program.
The $5 billion expenditure is also intended to support the president’s national wireless initiative, designed to help carriers reach 98 percent of the country with advanced 4G wireless service over the next five years. The initiative could help the FCC accomplish a core goal outlined in its national broadband plan: connecting at least 90 percent of Americans to high-speed Internet service by 2020.
But the president's budget also features a proposal that diverges from Genachowski’s playbook. Obama officially endorses handing over a valuable chunk of wireless spectrum -- know as the D-block -- to public-safety groups, even though Genachowski wanted the frequencies auctioned to commercial carriers.