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Biden admin asks for full funding for rip-and-replace

President Joe Biden’s administration this week called on Congress to allocate $3.1 billion to fully fund the FCC’s “rip and replace” program to rid U.S. networks of gear from China-based equipment providers like Huawei and ZTE, but the White House did not address the notion of funding for next-generation 911 (NG911).

Support for the “rip and replace” program is part of the administration’s $56 billion funding request to “meet critical needs” domestically. Released on Wednesday, the administration funding request asks Congress to allocate $3.1 billion to “fully reimburse eligible communications providers for the ongoing removal of insecure equipment and software from communications infrastructure that may pose a national-security threat to the United States.”

In addition, the Biden administration requested an additional $6 billion to fund the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP)—designed to provide high-speed Internet connectivity to low-income households—through December 2024. Without this funding, the ACP is projected to run out of funding by April, according to media reports.

Of course, it is up to Congress to determine whether these communications initiatives should be funded as requested by the administration and—perhaps more importantly—where to find the money in the federal budget.

There has been support in Congress to fully fund the “rip and replace” program as recently as 10 months ago, but the item—packaged in legislative language that would have reinstated the FCC’s authority to auction spectrum and provide nationwide funding for NG911—was not included in last December’s mammoth funding bill.

At that time, extending the FCC’s auction authority was expected to generate the revenue for the U.S. Treasury that would be necessary to fund the rip-and-replace and NG911 initiatives, even though most industry observers believed it would be years before bidders’ money would be available.

FCC officials repeatedly have stressed the importance that the agency have the authority to auction spectrum, a process that has generated more than $233 billion in revenue for the U.S. Treasury during the last 30 years. This is particularly critical as a U.S. delegation hopes to take a leadership role at the World Radio Conference (WRC) later this year, according to FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel.

“It’s not just that these auctions are a good deal; they are a big reason why the United States leads the world in wireless innovation,” Roseworcel said in a prepared statement in August. “They are also an essential part of our economic and national security.

“The current lapse in spectrum auction authority is unprecedented and it puts this leadership at risk. With the World Radio Conference now only months away, it is vital that this authority is reauthorized as soon as possible.”

Public-safety officials have applauded Roseworcel’s proposal that revenues from future FCC spectrum auctions be used to pay for much of the transition from legacy 911 technology to IP-based NG911 platforms. Previous legislative language have estimated that the cost of NG911 deployment should be between $10 billion and $15 billion, although those estimates were calculated during times when the inflation rate was lower.

Beltway sources have expressed optimism that one-time NG911 funding could be approved by Congress, particularly if it is part of legislation that would reinstate the FCC’s auction authority and fully fund the rip-and-replace program. If the rip-and-replace initiative is funded separately, there is a chance that lawmakers may not have a sense of urgency to fund NG911 in the near term, according to some sources.

Normally, there would be a sense of urgency for Congress to renew the FCC’s spectrum-auction authority, as the auctions have fueled growth in the wireless industry and generated significant revenue for the U.S. Treasury. However, the issue is not as pressing at this moment, because no spectrum has been identified for auction.

A report that was expected to identify federal spectrum that could be auctioned was supposed to be completed more than a month ago, but the results of that study have not been released publicly, according to Beltway sources. Even if spectrum is available to be auctioned, the process to prepare the airwaves for a bid proceeding takes considerable time, so the U.S. Treasury would not receive auction proceeds for years. Urgent Comm

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