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Stopgap Funding Implications?

FCC Claims About ACP 'Deeply Misleading': Hill Commerce GOP Leaders

Four lead Republicans on the House and Senate Commerce committees and their Communications subpanels raised major concerns Friday with the FCC’s “deeply misleading” claims about the affordable connectivity program's efficacy. Some lobbyists think this is a problem given the Biden administration’s push for Congress to appropriate an additional $6 billion to fully fund the initiative through the end of 2024 (see 2310250075). Estimates peg ACP as likely to exhaust its initial $14.2 billion tranche from the 2021 Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act during the first half of 2024 (see 2309210060).

The Biden administration’s reckless spending spree has left America’s current fiscal situation in a state of crisis, with gross debt at nearly $34 trillion,” said House Commerce Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., Senate Commerce ranking member Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and the Communications leaders in a letter to FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel. House Communications Chairman Bob Latta, R-Ohio, and Senate Communications ranking member John Thune, R-S.D., expressed skepticism over the ACP funding stopgap immediately after the White House sought the ACP money in October as part of its domestic supplemental appropriations request (see 2310260065).

It is incumbent on lawmakers to protect taxpayers and make funding decisions based on clear evidence,” the GOP lawmakers told Rosenworcel. “Unfortunately, your testimony pushes ‘facts’ about the ACP that are deeply misleading and have the potential to exacerbate the fiscal crisis without producing meaningful benefits to the American consumer.” They in part cited Rosenworcel’s testimony during a November House Communications FCC oversight hearing that “25 million households” would lose internet access if Congress doesn’t allocate ACP the stopgap money (see 2311300069). ACP issues were a marquee issue during a similar June House Communications hearing (see 2306210076).

Claims that broadband subscribers using ACP would lose their access absent further appropriations are “not true,” the Republican leaders said. “As Congress considers the future of taxpayer broadband subsidies, we ask you to correct the hearing record and make public accurate information about” ACP. “While you have repeatedly claimed that the ACP is necessary for connecting participating households to the internet, it appears the vast majority of tax dollars have gone to households that already had broadband prior to the subsidy,” the lawmakers said: They cited Rosenworcel’s past testimony that the Universal Service Administrative Co. has found 20%-22% of ACP recipients backed broadband access prior to the program’s start.

When questioned about these wasteful discrepancies, you dismissed these concerns, claiming that Congress did not require broadband providers to ask subscribers whether they paid for broadband prior to the ACP program,” the Republicans said. “If anything, it is much more speculative to claim that 25 million households will lose broadband if the ACP does not get new funding.” They criticized the FCC for failing to “publish data that it committed to make publicly available,” including mandated data on broadband adoption by first-time subscribers. “If you are going to dismiss concerns over the ACP’s inefficiency as unproven (even where there is ample data underlying this fact), you should hold yourself to the same standard and avoid sweeping claims of effectiveness with no basis in data,” the lawmakers said.

The FCC didn’t immediately comment.

The GOP leaders’ ACP concerns follow their recent criticism of FCC adoption of anti-digital discrimination rules (see 2311150040) and a data breach notification order that they believe violate congressional intent. Republicans said the FCC’s adoption of the data breach rules sidestepped a 2017 Congressional Review Act resolution of disapproval that rescinded the commission's 2016 ISP privacy order (see 2312140067). The FCC’s interpretation that it isn’t violating the CRA because the data breach rules restore only part of the 2016 order “would eviscerate the CRA,” Cruz, Thune and two other GOP senators wrote Rosenworcel last week. “An agency cannot enact substantially similar rules struck down by Congress by doing so in a piecemeal manner.”