Love is in the Air: President Obama Proposes (a Budget) and a Sentimental Anniversary

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Robbie’s Round-Up
Week of February 8-12, 2016

President Obama’s Budget Proposal
President Barack Obama released the final budget proposal of his presidency on February 9, a $4 trillion plan for the 2017 fiscal year, which starts October 1. Just over one-quarter of the $4 trillion budget is so-called discretionary spending for domestic and military programs that the President and Congress dicker over each year. The rest is for mandatory spending, chiefly interest on the federal debt and the Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid benefits that are expanding automatically as the population ages.

So how does the budget proposal affect communications policy? Here’s a breakdown:

Federal Communications Commission
The Federal Communications Commission requested authority to collect roughly $358 million in regulatory fees, a decrease of 6.7% from Fiscal Year 2016 levels.

The main requests from the FCC include:

  • Funds to complete a move/reconfiguration of the FCC office. The FCC also requests funds to follow through on essential information technology upgrades as part of a shift towards a modern cloud-based platform.
  • A transfer of $9.5 million from the Universal Service Fund (USF) to the FCC to cover costs related to the oversight of the USF programs for the Enforcement Bureau and for the Office of Managing Director. Some of these funds will also be used to identify improvements to the FCC’s current processes of identifying, preventing, and detecting improper payments in the USF programs.
  • An increase in the cap on spending of spectrum auctions proceeds to $124 million, an increase of $7million over FY 2016, to further the following objectives:
    • Making more spectrum available for commercial use, including executing the requirements mandated by Congress in the Spectrum Pipeline Act
    • Administering the Television Broadcaster Relocation efforts for the incentive auctions
    • Funding ongoing licensing as a result of successful auctions
    • Planning for additional future auctions
    • Relocation of auction-related personnel and systems associated with the FCC Headquarters’ move/restacking initiative.

President Obama’s budget proposal also factors in an estimated $5 billion in savings over the next decade by having the FCC enact spectrum license user fees and allowing the FCC to auction satellite services. License user fees have appeared in budget proposals since at least the 1990s, but Congress has never seriously considered enacting them.

President Obama’s education budget for fiscal 2017 seeks major new investments to bring K-12 education into the digital age, with a $4 billion request to expand computer science education. It calls for $40 million in funding in 2017, with yearly spending quickly escalating for the next five years. Part of President Obama’s Computer Science for All plan, the budget calls for $100 million is discretionary funding for schools to expand computer science classes for girls and minorities.

Digital Services
The U.S. Digital Service (USDS) was formed to fix in 2014, and has since expanded its work to other agencies, including the Departments of Homeland Security and Veterans Affairs. In 2016, USDS is partnering with the IRS to strengthen electronic authentication procedures, laying the groundwork for unified and secure taxpayer access to all IRS digital services. The fiscal 2017 budget funds the development of USDS teams at 25 agencies, with a goal of hiring and placing 500 USDS members within the government by January 2017.

"We're...going to reform the way the government manages and responds to cyber threats. We’ll invest in cybersecurity education. We're going to build on the work that we’ve already done to recruit the best talent in America in IT and in cybersecurity."
-- President Barack Obama

One of the most noteworthy components of the budget proposal deals with cybersecurity. The proposal is seeking a 35 percent hike in cybersecurity funding to boost the capability of the federal government to defend itself against cyberattacks. The $19 billion request is part of a larger package of initiatives the White House rolled out Feb 9, called the Cybersecurity National Action Plan (CNAP). According the the White House, CNAP “takes near-term actions and puts in place a long-term strategy to enhance cybersecurity awareness and protections, protect privacy, maintain public safety as well as economic and national security, and empower Americans to take better control of their digital security.”

Highlights of CNAP include:

  • Establishing the “Commission on Enhancing National Cybersecurity.”: This Commission will be comprised of top strategic, business, and technical thinkers from outside of Government to make critical recommendations on how the US can use new technical solutions and best practices to protect public safety and the privacy of citizens.
  • Modernizing Government Information Technology (IT): Transforms how the government manages cybersecurity through the proposal of a $3.1 billion Information Technology Modernization Fund and a new Federal Chief Information Security Officer to help retire, replace, and modernize legacy IT across the government.
  • Empowering Americans to secure their online accounts: A plan to enhance how federal agencies help protect the privacy of individuals and their information. President Obama signed an Executive Order that created a permanent Federal Privacy Council, which will bring together the privacy officials from across the Government to help ensure the implementation of more strategic and comprehensive Federal privacy guidelines, such as security tools like multi-factor authentication and other identity processing steps. It will comprise senior privacy officials from government agencies--though initially not including independent agencies like the FCC and FTC. But the White House did say that the committee may invite participation from officials at independent agencies. These tools will be central to a new National Cybersecurity Awareness Campaign launched by the National Cyber Security Alliance that will work with major tech companies to secure online accounts and financial transactions.
  • Investing in more than $19 billion for cybersecurity: President Obama’s budget calls for $19 billion in cybersecurity spending.

What’s Next
The budget proposal is a kind of wish list for the Obama Administration before the President leaves office. Few proposals are likely to make it through the Republican-led Congress. GOP leaders have already announced they will ignore the White House budget rather than engage in another round of brinksmanship with the President. In an unusual move, Congressional leadership broke with a four-decade tradition and declined to invite Office of Management and Budget Director Shaun Donovan to give his customary testimony on the spending proposal.

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) said of President Obama’s proposal, “This isn’t even a budget so much as it is a progressive manual for growing the federal government at the expense of hardworking Americans.”

Telecommunications Act of 1996 Turns 20
On February 8, 1996, President Bill Clinton signed the Telecommunications Act of 1996. The law was the first significant overhaul of US telecom law in more than 60 years, amending the Communications Act of 1934.

To commemorate the Anniversary, we’ve collected a few of the many reactions to this monumental piece of legislation:

Quick Bits

Weekend Reads (resist tl;dr)

Events Calendar for the Week of Feb 15-19
Feb 16 -- “The 20th Anniversary of the Telecommunications Act of 1996: A Review”, Federal Communications Bar Association
Feb 17 -- “Preserving Broadband Network Privacy”, Public Knowledge panel
Feb 17 -- “Insights From New Research on Digital Inclusion and Access”, Nonprofit Technology Network
Feb 18 -- FCC Open Meeting

ICYMI From Benton
Happy 20th Anniversary, Telecommunications Act”, Adrianne Furniss
"Bringing Broadband to Digital Deserts", Amina Fazlullah

By Robbie McBeath.