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Trump's fiscal 2020 budget request would fund broadband mapping work

U.S. President Donald Trump indicated in his proposed fiscal 2020 budget, released on March 11, that he is looking to expand the availability of broadband by improving the federal government's understanding of underserved areas.

"As part of the Administration's commitment to the Heartland, the Budget funds broadband mapping work to support ongoing efforts to increase the availability of affordable, reliable, and modern high-speed internet access in rural and underserved communities," says the budget document.

The document does not indicate how much money would be allocated towards the effort, should Congress adopt Trump's budget request.

Improving broadband maps to help the Federal Communications Commission better understand which areas are underserved by internet providers has drawn bipartisan support in Congress. In 2018, senators from both major political parties criticized the accuracy of the FCC's broadband maps during a March committee hearing, with some urging the FCC to take action to improve its coverage maps to ensure that federal infrastructure dollars go to the places most in need.

Additionally, the 2020 budget estimates that the FCC will generate revenue through both a spectrum license user fee and spectrum auctions for bands below 6 GHz, known as low- to mid-band spectrum.

Specifically, the proposed budget approximates that a spectrum license user fee would reduce the federal deficit by $50 million in 2020 and by $150 million in 2021. The fee would continue to reduce the deficit by $300 million in 2022, $450 million in 2023, and $500 million in 2024, according to the request.

The budget proposal also anticipates that spectrum auctions for bands below 6 gigahertz would reduce the deficit by $300 million in both 2020 and 2021.

According to previous FCC interpretations of earlier budget proposals, the fees would apply to unauctioned spectrum licenses based on spectrum-management principles. In those interpretations, the fees would be phased in over time as part of an ongoing rulemaking process.

The National Association of Broadcasters, or NAB, which believes it would be subject to the fees, strongly pushed back on the proposal.

"NAB vigorously opposes the idea of spectrum fees on broadcasters," said NAB spokesperson Dennis Wharton in a March 11 statement. "This is an unwarranted proposal that threatens the ability of local television stations to serve our tens of millions of viewers."

The budget proposal is not expected to be passed by the Democratic-controlled House.

Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J., chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, called the budget proposal a "sham" that has "absolutely no chance at ever becoming a reality" in a March 11 statement.