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Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Text and Multimedia Messaging: Emerging Issues for Congress

Patricia Moloney Figliola
Specialist in Internet and Telecommunications Policy

Gina Stevens
Legislative Attorney


The first text messages were sent during 1992 and 1993, although commercially, text messaging was not widely offered or used until 2000. Even then, messages could only be sent between users subscribed to the same wireless carrier, e.g., Sprint customers could only exchange messages with other Sprint customers. In November 2001, however, wireless service providers began to connect their networks for text messaging, allowing subscribers on different networks to exchange text messages. Since then, the number of text messages in the United States has grown to over 48 billion messages every month. Additionally, text messages are no longer only sent as “point-topoint” communications between two mobile device users. More specifically, messages are also commonly sent from web-based applications within a web browser (e.g., from an Internet e-mail address) and from instant messaging clients like AIM or MSN.

For Congressional policymakers, two major categories of issues have arisen: (1) “same problem, different platform” and (2) issues stemming from the difficulty in applying existing technical definitions to a new service, such as whether a text message is sent “phone-to-phone” or using the phone’s associated email address. There are numerous examples of each. An example of the first category would be consumer fraud and children’s accessing inappropriate content, which have existed previously in the “wired world,” but have now found their way to the “wireless world.” An example of the second category would be that spam sent between two phones or from one phone to many phones does not fall under the definition of spam in the CAN-SPAM Act of 2003 (Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing Act, P.L. 108-187); however, if that same message were to be sent from a phone or computer using the phone’s associated e-mail address, it would.

The increasing use of text and multimedia messaging has raised several policy issues: distracted driving, SMS spam, the inability of consumers to disable text messaging, text messaging price fixing, carrier blocking of common short code messages, deceptive and misleading common short code programs, protecting children from inappropriate content on wireless devices, “sexting,” mobile cyberbullying, privacy of text messages, and using SMS to support law enforcement and emergency response.



Date of Report: May 18, 2011
Number of Pages: 20
Order Number: RL34632
Price: $29.95

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Friday, May 27, 2011

Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response: The SAFER Grant Program


Lennard G. Kruger
Specialist in Science and Technology Policy

In response to concerns over the adequacy of firefighter staffing, the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response Act—popularly called the “SAFER Act”—was enacted by the 108th Congress as Section 1057 of the FY2004 National Defense Authorization Act (P.L. 108-136). The SAFER Act authorizes grants to career, volunteer, and combination local fire departments for the purpose of increasing the number of firefighters to help communities meet industry-minimum standards and attain 24-hour staffing to provide adequate protection from fire and fire-related hazards. Also authorized are grants to volunteer fire departments for activities related to the recruitment and retention of volunteers. The SAFER grant program is authorized through FY2010.

With the economic turndown adversely affecting budgets of local governments, concerns have arisen that modifications to the SAFER statute may be necessary to enable fire departments to more effectively participate in the program. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (P.L. 111-5) included a provision (section 603) that waived the matching requirements for SAFER grants awarded in FY2009 and FY2010. The FY2009 Supplemental Appropriations Act (P.L. 111-32) included a provision authorizing the Secretary of Homeland Security to waive further limitations and restrictions in the SAFER statute for FY2009 and FY2010.

The Administration’s FY2011 budget proposed $305 million for SAFER. The Department of Defense and Continuing Appropriations Act, 2011 (P.L. 112-10) funds SAFER at $405 million. The law also contained language that removes cost-share requirements and allows SAFER grants to be used to rehire laid-off firefighters and fill positions eliminated through attrition. However, P.L. 112-10 did not remove the requirement that SAFER grants fund a firefighter position for four years, with the fifth year funded wholly by the grant recipient. The law also did not waive the cap of $100K per firefighter hired by a SAFER grant.

The Administration’s FY2012 budget proposed $670 million for firefighter assistance, including $420 million for SAFER, which according to the FY2012 budget proposal, would fund 2,200 firefighter positions. On May 13, 2011, the House Subcommittee on Homeland Security Appropriations approved $150 million for SAFER. This level would constitute a 63% cut compared to the FY2011 appropriation. There is no SAFER waiver language in the Subcommittee mark.

Concern over local fire departments’ budgetary problems have framed debate over the SAFER reauthorization, which is included in S. 550, the Fire Grants Authorization Act of 2011 (introduced on March 10, 2011). Previously in the 111
th Congress, reauthorization legislation for SAFER was passed by the House, but was not passed by the Senate. As part of the reauthorization debate, Congress may consider whether some SAFER rules and restrictions governing the hiring grants should be permanently eliminated or altered in order to make it economically feasible for more fire departments to participate in the program.


Date of Report: May 16, 2011
Number of Pages: 14
Order Number: RL33375
Price: $29.95

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Thursday, May 26, 2011

Assistance to Firefighters Program: Distribution of Fire Grant Funding

Lennard G. Kruger
Specialist in Science and Technology Policy

The Assistance to Firefighters Grant (AFG) Program, also known as fire grants or the FIRE Act grant program, was established by Title XVII of the FY2001 National Defense Authorization Act (P.L. 106-398). Currently administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the program provides federal grants directly to local fire departments and unaffiliated Emergency Medical Services (EMS) organizations to help address a variety of equipment, training, and other firefighter-related and EMS needs. A related program is the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response Firefighters (SAFER) program, which provides grants for hiring, recruiting, and retaining firefighters.

The fire grant program is now in its 11
th year. The Fire Act statute was reauthorized in 2004 (Title XXXVI of P.L. 108-375) and provides overall guidelines on how fire grant money should be distributed. There is no set geographical formula for the distribution of fire grants—fire departments throughout the nation apply, and award decisions are made by a peer panel based on the merits of the application and the needs of the community. However, the law does require that fire grants be distributed to a diverse mix of fire departments, with respect to type of department (paid, volunteer, or combination), geographic location, and type of community served (e.g., urban, suburban, or rural).

The Administration’s FY2011 budget proposed $305 million for AFG and $305 million for SAFER. Subsequently, the full-year continuing appropriation bill for FY2011, which was signed into law on April 15, 2011 (Department of Defense and Continuing Appropriations Act, 2011, P.L. 112-10) funds AFG at $405 million and SAFER at $405 million for FY2011.

The Administration’s FY2012 budget proposed $670 million for firefighter assistance, including $250 million for AFG and $420 million for SAFER. According to the budget proposal, the request would fund 2,200 firefighter positions and approximately 5,000 AFG grants. On May 13, 2011, the House Subcommittee on Homeland Security Appropriations approved $350 million for firefighter assistance, including $200 million for AFG and $150 million for SAFER. These levels would constitute a 51% cut for AFG and a 63% cut for SAFER compared to the FY2011 appropriation.

On March 10, 2011, S. 550, the Fire Grants Authorization Act of 2011 was introduced into the 112
th Congress. Previously in the 111th Congress, reauthorization legislation for AFG and SAFER was passed by the House, but was not passed by the Senate. Debate over the reauthorization reflected a competition for funding between career/urban/suburban departments and volunteer/rural departments. The urgency of this debate was heightened by the proposed reduction of overall AFG funding in FY2011, and the economic downturn in many local communities increasingly hard pressed to allocate funding for their local fire departments.

On February 15, 2011, the Firefighting Investment, Renewal, and Employment Act or FIRE Act (H.R. 716) was introduced to authorize $210 million for each of fiscal years 2012 through 2016 for competitive grants for modifying, upgrading, or constructing nonfederal fire stations.



Date of Report: May 16, 2011
Number of Pages:
25
Order Number: R
L32341
Price: $29.95

Monday, May 16, 2011

Reauthorization of the America COMPETES Act: Selected Policy Provisions, Funding, and Implementation Issues


Heather B. Gonzalez
Specialist in Science and Technology Policy

On January 4, 2011, President Barack Obama signed P.L. 111-358, the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2010. The new law responds to concerns about national competiveness by authorizing $45.6 billion in funding for, among other things, research and development (R&D) in the physical sciences and engineering and in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education. P.L. 111-358 reauthorizes selected provisions from the 2007 America COMPETES Act (P.L. 110-69).

America COMPETES 2010 retains the central policy thrust of the 2007 act: a commitment to increased funding for R&D in the physical sciences and engineering and to certain federal STEM education programs. New programs established by the reauthorization include the Regional Innovation Program, Loan Guarantees for Innovative Technologies in Manufacturing, and the STEM-Training Grant Program. The 2010 reauthorization also repeals certain STEM education programs—such as the Math Now program—and makes other changes. Among these changes are provisions directing the National Science Foundation to maintain its minority-serving institutions programs as distinct programs.

Funding provisions are some of the most closely watched parts of the 2007 and 2010 America COMPETES acts. In particular, some analysts focus on so-called “doubling path” provisions for R&D funding at the National Science Foundation, National Institute of Standards and Technology laboratories, and the Department of Energy’s Office of Science. The 2007 law authorized a funding growth rate for these accounts that is consistent with a 7-year doubling path. The 2010 law’s growth rate is consistent with approximately an 11-year doubling path. Given the FY2011 and FY2012 debates about the federal budget, actual appropriations for America COMPETES 2010 funding provisions may be difficult to realize.

Funding may become a central implementation issue for the new law. In general, unfunded provisions of the original America COMPETES Act were not implemented. In addition to funding questions, other implementation and oversight issues for the new law center on the commercialization and diffusion of research; coordination and duplication in the federal STEM education effort; (opportunity) cost and broadening participation; and competitiveness and evaluation. With 10 titles and 77 provisions, implementation and oversight issues are likely to be numerous.

This report reviews major policy arguments raised in the congressional debate about the 2007 America COMPETES Act and 2010 reauthorization, examines and analyzes selected policy and funding provisions in these laws, and identifies some potential implementation and oversight issues for Congress.



Date of Report: May 11, 2011
Number of Pages: 22
Order Number: R41819
Price: $29.95

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Thursday, May 12, 2011

The Proposed AT&T/T-Mobile Merger: Would It Create a Virtuous Cycle or a Vicious Cycle?


Charles B. Goldfarb
Specialist in Telecommunications Policy

AT&T has announced an agreement to acquire T-Mobile USA (T-Mobile) from Deutsche Telekom for $25 billion in cash and $14 billion in AT&T stock, subject to the approval of the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Post-merger, Deutsche Telekom would own approximately 8% of AT&T’s stock. AT&T is the second largest mobile wireless service provider in the United States; T-Mobile is the fourth largest. The combined company would be the largest mobile wireless service provider. In recent years, AT&T has been gaining subscribers while T-Mobile has been losing subscribers.

AT&T and T-Mobile state that combining their spectrum holdings and networks represents the most efficient way to alleviate each company’s largest strategic challenge—AT&T’s “network spectrum and capacity constraints” and T-Mobile’s lack of a “clear path” to deployment of 4G Long Term Evolution (LTE) network technology, “the gold standard for advanced mobile broadband services.” They assert that the merger would turn two companies that currently are capacity-constrained into “an efficient capacity-enhancing combination” that would have the incentive to increase output, improve quality, and lower prices. Most notably, AT&T claims the merger “will enable it to deploy LTE to more than 97% of Americans—approximately 55 million more Americans than under AT&T’s current plans” to build out its LTE network to just 80% of Americans.

Critics argue that the merger would result in two firms—AT&T and Verizon Wireless—having more than 70% of the market as well as the lion’s share of the spectrum that provides the highest quality mobile wireless service, which the former Bell companies would be able to leverage in their dealings with device suppliers and others to place other mobile wireless service providers at a competitive disadvantage. These opponents claim that allowing AT&T to own such a large portion of mobile wireless spectrum—especially in conjunction with AT&T’s proposed acquisition of mobile wireless spectrum from Qualcomm—“would further empower an already dominant wireless carrier to leverage its control over devices, backhaul, and consumers in ways that stifle competition.”

These conflicting perspectives reflect the classic debate over the tradeoffs between static efficiency and competition, which in individual cases can only be measured by a fact-driven analysis. The mobile wireless industry is characterized by economies of scale and scope. In a static market, it would be less costly and/or more efficient to build out and operate a single network instead of multiple networks with partially duplicative facilities; to give a single provider use of a large block of spectrum rather than giving a number of providers use of a subset of that block; and to design and mass produce a single suite of handsets rather than making handsets for smaller groups of customers using many different standards and network technologies. In a dynamic market with rapidly changing technology, however, the claims of scale economies must be weighed against the possibility that any lessening of competition will lessen pressure for innovation and cost and price restraint. Consolidation that gives one or two providers a dominant share of the market and of the available spectrum may promote static efficiency, but it may undermine dynamic efficiency. DOJ and the FCC may have to analyze this tradeoff as they weigh the proposed merger.



Date of Report: May 10, 2011
Number of Pages: 24
Order Number: R41813
Price: $29.95

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