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Thursday, October 31, 2013

The Federal Networking and Information Technology Research and Development Program: Background, Funding, and Activities

Patricia Moloney Figliola
Specialist in Internet and Telecommunications Policy

In the early 1990s, Congress recognized that several federal agencies had ongoing highperformance computing programs, but no central coordinating body existed to ensure long-term coordination and planning. To provide such a framework, Congress passed the High-Performance Computing and Communications Program Act of 1991 (P.L. 102-194) to enhance the effectiveness of the various programs. In conjunction with the passage of the act, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) released Grand Challenges:High- Performance Computing and Communications. That document outlined a research and development (R&D) strategy for high-performance computing and a framework for a multiagency program, the High-Performance Computing and Communications (HPCC) Program. The HPCC Program has evolved over time and is now called the Networking and Information Technology Research and Development (NITRD) Program, to better reflect its expanded mission.

Current concerns are the role of the federal government in supporting IT R&D and the level of funding to allot to it. Proponents of federal support of information technology (IT) R&D assert that it has produced positive outcomes for the country and played a crucial role in supporting long-term research into fundamental aspects of computing. Such fundamentals provide broad practical benefits, but generally take years to realize. Additionally, the unanticipated results of research are often as important as the anticipated results. Another aspect of government-funded IT research is that it often leads to open standards, something that many perceive as beneficial, encouraging deployment and further investment. Industry, on the other hand, is more inclined to invest in proprietary products and will diverge from a common standard when there is a potential competitive or financial advantage to do so. Proponents of government support believe that the outcomes achieved through the various funding programs create a synergistic environment in which both fundamental and application-driven research are conducted, benefitting government, industry, academia, and the public. Supporters also believe that such outcomes justify government’s role in funding IT R&D, as well as the growing budget for the NITRD Program. Critics assert that the government, through its funding mechanisms, may be picking “winners and losers” in technological development, a role more properly residing with the private sector. For example, the size of the NITRD Program may encourage industry to follow the government’s lead on research directions rather than selecting those directions itself.

The President’s FY2014 budget request for the NITRD Program is $3.968 billion and the FY2012 NITRD actual expenditures totaled $3.810 billion. FY2013 actual expenditures have not yet been calculated. The President’s FY2013 budget request for the NITRD Program was $3.808 billion. FY2013 appropriations bills from the Senate and the House were not passed before the end of the 112
th Congress. H.J.Res. 117, passed by the House on September 13, 2012, provides a framework for a six-month Continuing Resolution that began on October 1, 2013. On March 26, 2013, the President signed the Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act of 2013 (P.L. 113- 6), which funded the majority of the federal government at close to FY2012 levels for the remainder of FY2013. Further, on October 17, the President signed the Continuing Appropriations Act, 2014 (P.L. 113-46), that continues appropriations through January 15, 2014.

Date of Report: October 22, 2013
Number of Pages: 21
Order Number: RL33586
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Monday, October 21, 2013

Updating the Statutory Framework for Communications for the Digital Age: Issues for Congress

Charles B
Goldfarb, Specialist in Telecommunications Policy

The statutory framework for the communications sector largely was enacted prior to the commercial development and deployment of digital technology, Internet Protocol (IP), broadband networks, and online voice, data, and video services. These new technologies have driven changes in market structure throughout the communications sector. Technological spillovers have allowed for the convergence of previously service-specific networks, creating new competitive entry opportunities. But they also have created certain incentives for market consolidation. Firms also have used new technologies to attempt to “invent around” statutory obligations or prohibitions, such as retransmission consent and copyright requirements. In addition, firms have developed new technologies that are attractive to consumers because they allow them to avoid paying for programming or allow them to skip the commercials that accompany video programming, but present a challenge to the traditional business model.

The expert agencies charged with implementing the relevant statutes—the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the Copyright Office—have had to determine if and how to apply the law to technologies and circumstances that were not considered when the statutes were developed. Frequently, this has led parties unhappy with those interpretations to file court suits, which has delayed rule implementation and increased market uncertainty. The courts, too, have had to reach decisions with limited guidance from the statutes.

Members on both sides of the aisle as well as industry stakeholders have suggested that many existing provisions in the Communications Act of 1934, as amended, and in the Copyright Act of 1976, as amended, need to be updated to address current technological and market circumstances, though there is no consensus about the changes needed. Three broad, interrelated policy issues are likely to be prominent in any policy debate over how to update the statutory framework:

  • how to accommodate technological change that already has taken place and, more dynamically, how to make the framework flexible enough to accommodate future technological change; 
  • given that underlying scale economies allow for only a very small number of efficient facilities-based network competitors, how to give those few network providers the incentive to invest and innovate while also constraining their ability to impede downstream competition from independent service providers that must use their networks; and 
  • given that spectrum is an essential communications input, how to implement a framework that fosters efficient spectrum use and management. .
Date of Report: September 30, 2013
Number of Pages: 52
Order Number: R43248
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Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Broadband Loan and Grant Programs in the USDA's Rural Utilities Service

Lennard G. Kruger
Specialist in Science and Technology Policy

Given the large potential impact broadband access may have on the economic development of rural America, concern has been raised over a “digital divide” between rural and urban or suburban areas with respect to broadband deployment. While there are many examples of rural communities with state of the art telecommunications facilities, recent surveys and studies have indicated that, in general, rural areas tend to lag behind urban and suburban areas in broadband deployment.

Citing the lagging deployment of broadband in many rural areas, Congress and the Administration acted in 2001 and 2002 to initiate pilot broadband loan and grant programs within the Rural Utilities Service (RUS) at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Subsequently, Section 6103 of the Farm Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002 (P.L. 107-171) amended the Rural Electrification Act of 1936 to authorize a loan and loan guarantee program to provide funds for the costs of the construction, improvement, and acquisition of facilities and equipment for broadband service in eligible rural communities. The RUS/USDA houses two assistance programs exclusively dedicated to financing broadband deployment: the Rural Broadband Access Loan and Loan Guarantee Program and the Community Connect Grant Program.

The 110
th Congress considered reauthorization and modification of the loan and loan guarantee program as part of the 2008 farm bill. The Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008 became law on June 18, 2008 (P.L. 110-246). Title VI (Rural Development) contains authorizing language for the broadband loan program.

The 112
th Congress considered reauthorization of the broadband loan program in the 2012 farm bill. While the 2012 farm bill was not enacted by the 112th Congress, Title VII of the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 extended farm bill programs by one year (through September 30, 2013). In the 113th Congress, 2013 farm bill legislation passed by the House and Senate (H.R. 2642/S. 954) includes the broadband program reauthorization provisions previously contained in the 2012 farm bill.

Date of Report: September 20, 2013
Number of Pages: 31
Order Number: RL33816
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