House Debates FCC Budget

On July 9, the House Commerce Committee's Communications and Technology Subcommittee held a hearing on the fiscal year (FY) 2025 budget for the Federal Communications Commission. FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel testified before the subcommittee along with fellow commissioners Brendan Carr, Geoffrey Starks, Nathan Simington, and Anna Gomez.

Congress last reauthorized the FCC in 2018, authorizing $333 million for FY2019 and $339 million for FY2020. The FCC currently employs approximately 1,600 full-time equivalents (FTE) and was permitted to collect $390,192,000 in offsetting regulatory fees for FY2024. For FY2025, the FCC is requesting $448,075,000 in budget authority from regulatory fee offsetting collections, representing a 14.8 percent increase from FY2024 funding levels. The House Appropriations Committee's Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government passed an appropriations bill for FY2025 that would permit the FCC to collect $416,112,000 in offsetting collections, representing an increase of $25.92 million.

The subcommittee is chaired by Rep. Bob Latta (R-OH). He set the tone of the hearing by launching an attack on what he calls the "Biden Broadband Takeover." He criticized the FCC's adoption of net neutrality rules and classifying broadband internet access service as a telecommunications service. "This action expands the FCC’s authority over broadband, allowing the agency to impose burdensome regulations that will make it harder for providers to deploy broadband," Chairman Latta said.

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA), the chair of the full House Commerce Committee, echoed Mr. Latta. "The Commission’s recent action to reclassify broadband Internet access as a public utility under Title II of the Communications Act, as well as the agency’s broad rules on digital discrimination, have undermined our efforts to ensure every American has access to broadband," she said. "It’s a century old framework designed to address telephone monopolies, whereas today’s broadband marketplace is incredibly competitive."

In opening remarks, Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-MI) countered the criticism of the FCC's net neutrality rules:

The FCC has consistently prioritized work to protect consumers, promote public safety, and enhance national security in our communications sector, leading the way toward a digital future that is safe and secure for all Americans. Nowhere has this been more apparent than in the FCC’s adoption of net neutrality protections. This action corrected the Trump-era FCC’s misguided rollback of commonsense rules for an open internet. We strongly support the reinstatement of this authority. We are pleased the agency rectified a massive dereliction of its duty and extended bedrock consumer protections to broadband internet access that our nation has always applied to communications services. The FCC’s action will result in greater oversight over internet providers to mitigate network outages, resolve broadband consumer complaints, prevent anti-consumer and anti-competitive practices, and protect our national security.

Chairwoman Rosenworcel testified that as a fee-funded agency, the FCC has worked hard to develop a reasonable budget request that maximizes benefits to the public, while remaining fair to industries responsible for our requested funding level of $448,075,000. This amount will ensure that the FCC  can meet its statutory mandates and uphold the core values of our laws—consumer protection, universal service, national security, and public safety—all while keeping pace with ever-changing and advancing technologies. Chairwoman Rosenworcel highlighted ten recent FCC activities. The FCC has:

  1. Worked to connect everyone, which is essential for our digital future.
  2. Protected consumers and enhanced competition.
  3. Created the National Broadband Map—the most accurate broadband map ever created—to help close the digital divide.
  4. Contributed to an inclusive digital future by making connectivity more accessible.
  5. Connected the most vulnerable.
  6. Connected families.
  7. Kept communications secure.
  8. Doubled down on efforts to stop scam robocalls and robotexts.
  9. Kept pace with rapid development of the satellite sector and the growing importance of space-based communications.
  10.  Found more ways to use spectrum to support wireless communications into the future.

"I do not support the FCC’s request for a 14.8% increase in budget authority," testified Commissioner Carr.  "The FCC’s request represents a significant departure from recent agency precedent—both in terms of the year-over-year funding increase itself as well as the agency’s notable expansion of its headcount.  The FCC’s request also fails to align with Congress’s focus on reining in government spending." Commissioner Carr criticized Biden Administration efforts to close the digital divide including the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) Program, as well as net neutrality and digital discrimination rules. 

Commissioner Starks' testimony focused on the importance of additional funding for the  Affordable Connectivity Program. "Let me be clear, ACP is the most effective program we’ve had in helping low-income Americans get online and stay online.  In fact, in my opinion, it has been the most successful program ever in our decades-long, bipartisan effort to solve the digital divide.  We’ve made real progress in closing the digital divide through ACP and we cannot afford to slide backward.  I look forward to working with this Committee as you consider re-funding this critical program."

Commissioner Simington started his testimony expressing "frustration with the direction that the Commission has taken in dedicating its limited resources to implementation of partisan, unnecessary and burdensome policy frameworks, like the Title II broadband and digital discrimination regulatory regimes." He said, "These heavy-handed priorities leave little room for commonsense, urgently needed reforms and invaluable Commission attention.  Such reforms  include not only a comprehensive framework for securing our networks from foreign threats, which I will address in detail, but also a Universal Service Fund contributions overhaul and a continued focus on space leadership." His main priority is securing wireless and Internet of Things devices.

"The importance of digital connectivity in the daily lives of Americans is what makes the funding lapse of the bipartisan Affordable Connectivity Program so concerning," said Commissioner Gomez. "Connectivity has never been more important.  From being able to keep up with school and staying connected with family and friends, to helping rural businesses reach larger markets, to ensuring veterans can access the medical care they need to successfully re-enter civilian life, modern daily life requires a reliable connection to the Internet."

In the Q&A session that followed prepared testimony, Republican Members questioned the FCC's authority on a host of issues in light of recent Supreme Court rulings limiting the power of federal agencies. Democrats on the subcommittee focused on the impact of the end of the Affordable Connectivity Program on 23 million low-income households.