Originally published: February 14, 2011
Last updated: March 2, 2011 - 12:36pm
President Barack Obama has submitted a budget to Congress that proposes fiscal year 2012 funding for the Federal Communications Commission of $354.2 million. The budget is up from $335.8 million in 2010, the last time Congress approved the agency's spending levels.
The requested FY 2012 funding level would include: implementing the National Broadband Plan, a roadmap for economic growth and American competitiveness in the 21st century; overhauling the FCC's data systems and processes, to streamline the FCC and make it even more effective; continuing to modernize and reform the FCC; strengthening the audit and investigation function of the Office of the Inspector General; and supporting the FCC's public safety and cyber-security roles. The reasons for the increase, according to FCC Managing Director Steve VanRoeckel: about 75 new staffers, funding for an emergency response center created in 2010 and a request to replace four or five of the FCC's Hybrid Chevy Tahoes each year, which the FCC uses for field work. The request would also provide funds to cover mandatory inflationary increases for contractual services. FCC is deficit-neutral, funding itself through regulatory fees and spectrum auctions that bring money back to the Treasury.
The President's plan makes an important recommendation that could bolster regulatory initiatives spearheaded by FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski: President 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. Chairman 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.