Communications and Technology Subcommittee Hearing Examines the National Telecommunications and Information Administration

The House Commerce Committee's Subcommittee on Communications and Technology convened to conduct oversight of the U.S. Department of Commerce's National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA). The subcommittee is considering reauthorizing NTIA for the first time since 1993. Key questions leading into the hearing included:

  • Why is the NTIA’s proposed budget increase necessary to fulfill its statutory duties?
  • What steps is the NTIA taking to prevent waste, fraud, and abuse in its broadband grant programs?
  • What steps is the NTIA taking to improve the coordination and management of Federal spectrum?
  • What steps is the NTIA taking to provide oversight of public safety activities, including the First Responder Network Authority?

The hearing's sole witness was  Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Communications and Information  Alan Davidson, NTIA's Administrator. (Yes, there were jokes about how he fits his full title on a business card.)

In prepared testimony, Administrator Davidson reported on progress NTIA has made in recent months 1) connecting everyone in America to affordable, reliable high-speed Internet service, no matter where they live; 2) maintaining American leadership in wireless innovation by developing a national spectrum strategy, pipeline, and data-driven processes for long-term spectrum planning; and 3) developing policies that will make for a better Internet – one that offers privacy, security, openness, and trust. On the broadband front:

  • Every state and eligible territory has applied to participate in both the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment, or BEAD, program and NTIA's Digital Equity Planning Grant program. By the end of 2022, NTIA had issued more than $307 million in BEAD and Digital Equity planning grants to all 50 states, Puerto Rico, and the District of Columbia.
  • NTIA has awarded 157 grants totaling more than $1.77 billion through the Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program, serving 230 Tribal Governments. These grants will be used for broadband deployment on tribal lands, as well as for telehealth, distance learning, broadband affordability, and digital inclusion activities.
  • NTIA has awarded nearly $263 million in Connecting Minority Communities grants to 93 Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Hispanic Serving Institutions, Minority Serving Institutions, and Tribal colleges and universities. This program helps schools pay for Internet access and devices, or to hire and train information technology personnel. These grants are already helping people in need: from the grandmother in Oklahoma who made a fresh start as a fiber technician to a member of Navajo Nation in Arizona who was able to go back to school thanks to a new device and hotspot.

What is NTIA?

NTIA is the Executive Branch agency that is principally responsible by law for advising the President on telecommunications and information policy issues. NTIA’s programs and policymaking focus largely on expanding broadband Internet access and adoption in America, expanding the use of spectrum by all users, and ensuring that the Internet remains an engine for continued innovation and economic growth. Specific NTIA activities include:

  • Managing the Federal use of spectrum and identifying additional spectrum for commercial use;
  • Administering grant programs that further the deployment and use of broadband and other technologies in America;
  • Developing policy on issues related to the Internet economy, including online privacy, copyright protection, cybersecurity, and the global free flow of information online;
  • Promoting the stability and security of the Internet’s domain name system through its participation on behalf of the U.S. government in Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) activities; and
  • Performing cutting-edge telecommunications research and engineering with both Federal government and private sector partners.  

NTIA's Budget

The Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2023, appropriated to NTIA $62 million. The NTIA currently employs 154 full-time staff for 157 positions. NTIA's fiscal year (FY) 2023 budget request totaled $67.6 million for 189

positions. Highlights included:

  • BroadbandUSA: NTIA’s broadband program funding in FY 2023 totals $27.4 million for 42 positions. In FY 2023, NTIA will continue to support communities in their efforts to close the digital divide and to improve broadband services in unserved and underserved communities across the country.
  • Domestic and International Policies: NTIA’s domestic and international policies program funding in FY 2023 totals $14.2 million and 48 positions. NTIA’s domestic and international policies work to preserve the Internet’s openness and its cultural and economic potentials while advancing key U.S. interests. NTIA coordinates Executive Branch communications policy and represents the Administration’s policy to independent agencies such as the Federal Communications Commission and the Federal Trade Commission. NTIA says it must be positioned to meet the growing complexity of the Internet environment, as the world becomes more interconnected via rapid growth of the Internet, the globalization of information technology services and equipment, and as governance of the Internet becomes an increasingly complex geopolitical issue.
  • Spectrum Management: FY 2023 funding for spectrum management totals $8.9 million for 40 positions. NTIA will continue to evolve its analysis capabilities to increase spectrum access available to commercial and federal users. The budget will support the commercial sector’s development of next generation wireless services by recommending reallocation of spectrum for commercial use and by promoting spectrum sharing between commercial and government users. The agency promotes the most efficient use of the limited spectrum resources across the Federal Government. Working with the FCC, NTIA coordinates international and domestic spectrum access requirements, identifies and reallocates spectrum bands for commercial  use, updates spectrum policies, and develops long-range spectrum management plans. NTIA collaborates with the State Department to advance U.S. interests and positions related to international spectrum issues, conferences, and negotiations.

The total NTIA budget request for Fiscal Year (FY) 2024 is $109.665 million, which is $47.665 million more than the amount appropriated for FY23.  For the NTIA’s core programs, the FY24 budget requests $17 million for domestic and international policies.  The FY24 budget requests $25 million for spectrum management. This request is an increase of approximately $15 million over the FY23 enacted level. The budget would be used to  develop and implement a mechanism for dynamically sharing spectrum in a given band that would enable managing interference between incumbent Federal users and new entrants. The FY24 budget requests $42 million for broadband programs to provide technical assistance and guidance to bring broadband to communities across America. The request would  increase administrative oversight of grants funded under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

NTIA's Responsibilities

Over the past few years, Congress has assigned a number of important responsibilities to NTIA.

1. Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021

The Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021 included COVID-19 stimulus funding, and provided NTIA $1.3 billion for broadband grants: $1 billion for Tribal areas and $300 million for broadband deployment in unserved areas. The Tribal grants may be used by Tribal governments to be used not only for broadband deployment on Tribal lands, but also telehealth, distance learning, broadband affordability, and digital inclusion. The broadband expansion grants support broadband infrastructure deployment to areas lacking broadband, especially rural areas.

The Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021 also created the Connecting Minority Communities Pilot Program, which included $285 million to support to expand broadband capacity and use in communities surrounding Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Tribal colleges and universities, and minority-serving education institutions.

2. Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act

The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act tasked the NTIA with managing several grant programs that carry out broadband deployment and adoption activities.

  • $42.45 billion for the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) Program, which will provide last-mile deployment grants to states for unserved and underserved areas;
  • $2.75 billion for the State Digital Equity Capacity Grant Program and the Digital Equity Competitive Grant Program, which support digital equity and inclusion activities;
  • $1 billion for the Middle Mile Grant Program, to support the deployment of middle-mile infrastructure; and
  • $2 billion for the Tribal Connectivity Program, to support connectivity-related activities for Tribal communities

Legislation on the Agenda

As part of the hearing, the subcommittee was considering a number of (draft) bills that would impact the NTIA including:

H.R.___, the National Telecommunication and Information Administration Reauthorization Act of 2023: The discussion draft is led by Subcommittee Chairman Bob Latta (R-OH). The discussion draft would reauthorize the NTIA, promote the Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Communications and Information to the Under Secretary of Commerce for Communications and Information, and make changes to the agency’s statutory mission, functions, and policy.

H.R.___, the NTIA Consolidated Reporting Act: The discussion draft is led by Representative Rick Allen (R-GA). The discussion draft would repeal outdated or unnecessary reporting requirements and establish an annual, consolidated report, which would include many existing statutory reporting requirements.

H.R.___, the Proper Leadership to Align Networks (PLAN) for Broadband Act: The discussion draft is led by Representative Tim Walberg (R-MI). The discussion draft would require NTIA to develop and submit to Congress a national strategy to close the digital divide that would support better management of broadband funding programs, synchronize interagency coordination among agencies that provide broadband funding, and reduce barriers to broadband permitting processes.

H.R.___, the Improving Broadband Mapping Act: he discussion draft is led by Representative Tony Cardenas (D-CA). The discussion draft would direct NTIA to submit an annual report to Congress on the state of the digital divide. It would also require NTIA to update its Indicators of Broadband Need mapping application every six months with new data, including data collected from the FCC’s Broadband Data Collection, third-party speed tests, and Affordable Connectivity Program eligibility and enrollment.

H.R.___, To direct the Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Communications and Information to publish data from the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment Program, and for other purposes: The discussion draft is led by Representative Yvette D. Clarke (D-NY). The discussion draft would direct NTIA to post on its website data collected from recipients and subrecipients of an award from the Broadband, Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) grant program on subgrantee ownership demographics. The discussion draft would also direct NTIA to collect and post data on the demographics of the workforce used for activities assisted with BEAD funding, and the number and amount of contracts and subcontracts awarded under BEAD to minority business enterprises and to women’s business enterprises.

H.R.___, the Diaspora Link Act: The discussion draft is led by Delegate Stacey E. Plaskett (D-Virgin Islands). The discussion draft would direct NTIA to submit a report to Congress assessing the value, cost, and feasibility of developing a trans-Atlantic submarine fiber optic cable connecting the contiguous United States, the United States Virgin Islands, Ghana, and Nigeria.

Hearing From Members of Congress

From artificial intelligence to high-speed broadband connectivity, investment in digital infrastructure has become a defining theme of the modern era, stressed full House Commerce Committee Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA). “These initiatives highlight just how much NTIA’s duties have changed since it was last reauthorized in 1993 and the need for Congress to reauthorize agencies whose authorization has lapsed.” She added,  “Today’s hearing is just as much about oversight as it is about reauthorization. Millions of Americans still lack access to broadband services, despite our federal government spending tens of billions of dollars on broadband-related programs over the years."

Subcommittee Chairman Latta noted that the hearing was the first since the NTIA published its notice of funding opportunity for the Bead Program. “Getting these rules right is crucial, including technology neutrality, will ultimately determine whether all Americans are connected or if they will continue to be left on the wrong side of the digital divide,” he said.

Rep. Ann McLane Kuster (D-NH) stressed the importance of streamlining permitting to ensure that broadband deployment projects are able to move forward quickly. 

Communications and Technology Subcommittee Hearing Examines the National Telecommunications and Information Administration Subcommittee Staff Memo