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Archive for the ‘Telecommunications’ Category

Tracking Spending (and Revenue!) in the Heart of the Legislative Year

Sunday, May 22nd, 2016

nurse phoneIt’s already the heart of the legislative year in Congress. In about a month-and-a-half, Congress will take its summer break, and after that there’ll be nothing but politicking for November’s election. Any serious legislating is happening now. (There will still be legislating later, but it won’t be serious…)

Nearly thirty bills got a cost estimate from the Congressional Budget Office last week, which is a signal that they might be on the move. A number of them include both spending and revenue.

That complicates our reporting on the costs of the bills, and it complicates the decision you might make about them. So let’s dig in and unpack a couple!

H.R. 4111 is the Rural Health Care Connectivity Act of 2015. The bill would allow skilled nursing facilities to get subsidized telecommunications.

Its cost of just under $3.00 per U.S. family is the result of roughly equal revenues and spending. The government would pull in about $212 million over ten years and lay out about $193 million.

That would push down the national debt by about $0.15 per family. The government would be larger by one small subsidy program, and just a teeny bit less in debt.

Here’s the current vote on H.R. 4111. Click to vote, comment, learn more, or edit the wiki article on the bill.

3604291357_08b9f88843_mS. 2123, the CORRECTIONS Act, would reform sentencing laws and correctional institutions. It’s not like many other bills in Congress because it doesn’t spend more and collect more. It has both spending and revenue reductions.

The bill would reduce sentences for certain crimes, meaning that some offenders would be released earlier than they would under current law. The result is savings on the cost of incarcerating people, but an increase in use of benefits such as Medicare, Medicaid, and Obamacare; Social Security; and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

An overall drop in outlays of about $500 million joins would join a tiny, $8 million drop in revenues. The result? Savings of about $5.27 per U.S. family, and a drop in the national debt of slightly less: about $5.15 per family.

Is it a good deal? Is it the right approach by you?

Here is the current vote on S. 2123. Click to vote, comment, learn more, or edit the wiki article on the bill.

THESE BILLS MUST PASS

Sunday, May 1st, 2016

endorseIt’s a convention around here—practiced with tongue firmly in cheek—to adamantly support any bill whose title is a clever enough acronym. And we’ve got some good ones this week!

They both were recently scored by the Congressional Budget Office, so they are bills that Congress is serious about considering and potentially passing. We think they must pass, because their titles are so clever.

First up, H.R. 4904, the Making Electronic Government Accountable By Yielding Tangible Efficiencies Act of 2016. You’ve probably noticed its best feature already: the acronym for the bill is “MEGABYTE.”

Some congressional staffers spent some serious time on that one. How many brainstorming sessions do you suppose it took?

H.R. 4904 would amend federal laws related to management of the federal government’s licenses for information technology software. The fedgov spent about $9 billion on software licenses in 2015, so it’s no small matter. As the bill would mostly codify current practice, it’s effect on federal spending is effectively nil.

It’s got a great name. Pass it!

Next, S. 2555, the Making Opportunities for Broadband Investment and Limiting Excessive and Needless Obstacles to Wireless Act. That’s right, the MOBILE NOW Act.

Pass it, Congress! Pass it! What are you waiting for?!

The bill would authorize various programs and measures related to management of the electromagnetic spectrum. Agencies would prepare reports, develop information for telecom firms, award prizes for advanced technologies, and ensure that certain radio frequencies are made available for commercial uses—all these efforts aimed at delivering better wireless services: MOBILE SOON.

Spending of about $135 million in S. 2555 is equivalent to just under $2 per U.S. family.

This is really Congress at its best—coming up with the cleverest bill names. We wholeheartedly endorse these bills!

Here are the current votes on H.R. 4904, the Making Electronic Government Accountable By Yielding Tangible Efficiencies Act of 2016 and S. 2555, the Making Opportunities for Broadband Investment and Limiting Excessive and Needless Obstacles to Wireless Act. Click to vote, comment, learn more, or edit the wiki articles on the bills.

Unemployment: Long-Term Costs, a Short-Term Extension

Sunday, February 28th, 2010

The PBS NewsHour had an interesting feature Friday about the social consequences of long-term unemployment. No surprise—the results are mostly negative.

“Psychologically, it’s roughly equivalent to the death of a spouse,” says journalist Don Peck, who has written an article on all this in March’s edition of The Atlantic.

Young workers who get their start in a bad jobs environment almost never catch up, though the current generation may be optimistic about their hopes. Poor and middle income families tend to suffer breakdown of family structure and other social consequences from long-term unemployment.

On the bright side, some chronically unemployed have moved away from materialism, strengthened their appreciation of family, begun volunteering in their communities, and so on. Younger people may develop stronger character and a stronger family orientation from hard economic times.

But these questions may be academic to people unemployed today, many of whom congregate on our all-purpose unemployment discussion board, P.L. 111-92, the Unemployment Compensation Extension Act. (It has received over 106,000 comments at this point.)

For many, unemployment benefits expire today. The bill to extend them is H.R. 4691, the Temporary Extension Act of 2010.

Last week the House passed this bill, but it was held up in the Senate by Senator Jim Bunning (R-KY). This morning Senator Jon Kyl (R-AZ) said it is likely to pass this week.

It’s a package deal—along with extending unemployment benefits, it would extend COBRA health care subsidies for a month. It would also extend surface transportation programs, delay a 21 percent cut in doctors’ pay under Medicare, extend a “Medicare therapy caps extension process”—whatever that is, extend the use of 2009 poverty guidelines, extend the national flood insurance program, extend a small business loan guarantee program, and extend some satellite television law or another.

Congress has designated the bill as “emergency” legislation, which excuses it from raising taxes or cutting other spending to balance out the new spending in the bill. The deficit and debt will grow.

Will Broadband Be in the Stimulus Package?

Sunday, November 9th, 2008

“I want to see a stimulus package sooner rather than later. If it does not get done in the lame duck session, it will be the first thing I get done as President of the United States.”

So said President-Elect Barack Obama at his first press conference this past week.

Will subsidies for broadband be part of it?

The Telecommunications Industry Association recently urged Congress to include subsidies for broadband in the economic stimulus package. The membership of TIA are telecommunications equipment providers. They argue that subsidies for their products would be good for America.

Oh! – which allows me to mention how a group called BroadbandCensus.com is promoting a Nov. 18 conference on broadband here on this site (more info | register). They have sponsored info on pages like Public Law 110-385, The Broadband Data Improvement Act, and H.R. 3919, The Broadband Census of America Act of 2007, right where people interested in these topics will find it. (Click and check out their info in the right column.)

It’s a brilliant thing – sponsoring info here on WashingtonWatch.com. Here’s how to do it.

Anyway, enough fawning over a sponsor . . . .

The last stimulus package was passed in February and included rebate checks to taxpayers, returning about $540 per family on average. But it may not have been all that stimulative. Martin Feldstein, chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers under President Reagan, recently wrote in the Wall Street Journal that it was a flop, with only 15% of the stimulus money going to new spending. (The rest went to savings or paying down debt – not bad things, but they came at the expense of driving up national debt.)

If an economic stimulus bill happens, maybe spending on infrastructure is better than cash payments out to people. We shall see. More to come, of course.

Silly Season on Capitol Hill

Friday, September 26th, 2008

Congress has all the planning skills and foresight of a teenager.

Y’know how when mom and dad are coming back from their weekend away, the kid tries to do all the chores for the weekend in the last hour? That’s Congress.

So as we wrap up the current Session, Congress is racing to do all the things it should have done all year long. Members are throwing every pet project they’ve got at the leadership, hoping to get it through before the Congress ends.

Sure, we’ve got spending decisions for fiscal year 2009, and this financial services bailout, but let’s try to get through dozens of other bills at the same time.

Here’s a look at all the bills that were on the House floor just yesterday. Lots of them are simple and straightforward, but nothing kept Congress from addressing them all through the year.

Congress waited until the last minute and most assuredly isn’t showing these bills, or the really big issues before it, the care it should. We citizens haven’t gotten much of a chance to look them over either.

H.R. 3018
The Family Self-Sufficiency Act of 2007

H.R. 3402
The Calling Card Consumer Protection Act

H.R. 3232
The Travel Promotion Act of 2007

H.R. 6950
The Stephanie Tubbs Jones Gift of Life Medal Act of 2008

H.R. 1014
The Heart Disease Education, Analysis Research, and Treatment for Women Act

H.R. 6946
To make a technical correction in the NET 911 Improvement Act of 2008

H.R. 1343
The Health Centers Renewal Act of 2007

Costs $102.88 per family

S. 2932
The Poison Center Support, Enhancement, and Awareness Act of 2008

S. 1810
The Prenatally and Postnatally Diagnosed Conditions Awareness Act

Costs $0.17 per family

S. 1382
The ALS Registry Act

Costs $0.62 per family

H.R. 6568
The Tom Lantos Pulmonary Hypertension Research and Education Act of 2008

H.R. 6901
The Meth Free Families and Communities Act

H.R. 6469
The Organ Transplant Authorization Act of 2008

H.R. 1157
The Breast Cancer and Environmental Research Act of 2007

H.R. 758
The Breast Cancer Patient Protection Act of 2007

Costs $0.00 per family

H.R. 4544
The Code Talkers Recognition Act of 2007

H.R. 4120
The Effective Child Pornography Prosecution Act of 2007

H.R. 6045
The Bulletproof Vest Partnership Grant Act of 2008

S. 1046
The Senior Professional Performance Act of 2007

Costs $0.05 per family

S. 928
The Homeowners Protection Act of 2007

DirecTV vs. Cable on Taxes

Friday, August 29th, 2008

I was flipping through the channels on a DirecTV setup yesterday when I spied a most interesting campaign put together by the satellite TV provider itself. On the unused channels, there was an important message aimed at subscribers.

Big Cable companies are encouraging states across the country to charge satellite subscribers, like you, higher state sales taxes. This is unfair!

A bipartisan group of members of Congress have said, enough is enough! They introduced the State Video Tax Fairness Act (HR 3679 & S 3418) to prevent any state from charging higher taxes on satellite subscribers than on other video customers.

The message invites DirecTV subscribers to contact their members of Congress encouraging support for these bills.

It’s very interesting to see a company go straight to its customers with a public policy push, but you see it more and more. Ebay Mainstreet is one of the most prominent I’ve seen.

Anyway, the campaign is working to some degree. Take a look at the first comment on H.R. 3679, The State Video Tax Fairness Act of 2007. It’s from a guy who saw a message on his DirecTV system. The Senate version hasn’t seen quite as much action.

Here’s the current voting on H.R. 3679, The State Video Tax Fairness Act of 2007 and S. 3418, The State Video Tax Fairness Act of 2008. Click to vote, comment, learn more, or edit the wiki articles about the bills.

Marchelos Debarred – Phone Subsidy Program Back on Track!

Wednesday, August 27th, 2008

I wrote here six weeks ago about how the telecommunications subsidy programs run by the Federal Communications Commission were poorly run and subject to waste, fraud, and abuse.

Well, evidently, the FCC got the message and has cleaned up its act! Or started to . . . . Or at least they did something.

Today, the agency has debarred a Mr. George Marchelos from from the schools and libraries universal service support program (often called the “E-Rate program”) for three years. Marchelos was recently convicted of participating in schemes to defraud the E-Rate program and of engaging in bid rigging on E-Rate projects for certain school districts. (Here’s a look at part of his indictment.) He must be devastated that he can’t rig bids or defraud this particular corner of the government for a whole three years.

Interestingly, Marchelos was a witness at a congressional hearing on problems with the e-rate program back in 2004. (The House Commerce Committee says his testimony will be online “as soon as possible after the conclusion of the hearing,” which evidently is something more than three years.)

So you can go ahead and pay your telephone taxes again with the confidence of knowing that waste, fraud, and abuse have been squeezed out of this program – ummm, for three years at least.

Free Broadband Now! . . . and a Pony

Wednesday, August 13th, 2008

This time it’s not a politician to blame for making exaggerated claims. It’s one of these coalitions that spring up when a certain set of people want a certain set of goodies from the government.

The Coalition for Free Broadband Now wants the Federal Communications Commission to auction of some of the electromagnetic spectrum under rules that would provide for free, “family friendly” wireless broadband service.

It’s touting a pair of bills, H.R. 5846, the Wireless Internet Nationwide for Families Act of 2008 and S. 3420, the Open Wireless Internet Act.

The FCC probably should get this spectrum out there for better use, but this really sounds like industrial planning. Just let it be bought and sold an a spectrum market like land is bought and sold so that it can find its most valued uses. OR put it out there for use by anyone – like they did with the spectrum that wifi works on.

Two things are for sure: 1) Somebody’s going to pay for it. There is no free lunch, and there’s no free broadband. 2) It’s not going to happen now. It’s now right now, and that free broadband isn’t here.

Free broadband? Yeah. And a pony.

Here’s the current voting on H.R. 5846, the Wireless Internet Nationwide for Families Act of 2008 and S. 3420, the Open Wireless Internet Act. Click to vote, comment, learn more, or edit the wiki articles about the bills.

Phone Subsidies in Disarray

Monday, July 14th, 2008

Via Ars Technica, the Government Accountability Office recently issued a report entitled “Telecommunications: FCC Needs to Improve Performance Management and Strengthen Oversight of the High-Cost Program.” That’s a nice way of saying, “Things are going to hell in a handbasket!”

The FCC administers a small collection of subsidy programs for telecommunications that support rural telephone service, for example. This is the “high-cost” program referred to in GAO’s obscure title.

A thing called the Universal Service Administrative Corporation collects taxes from some phone bills and doles it out to telecom providers in the name of keeping phone rates affordalbe for everyone.

The GAO says, in its characteristic obscure way, “The high-cost program’s structure has contributed to inconsistent distribution of support and availability of services across rural America.” That means things are a mess.

With more than $30 billion having been spent since the program began a little over 10 years ago – yes, that’s billion with a “B” – GAO finds that the “FCC has not established long-term or intermediate performance goals and measures.” Again, a translation: they don’t know whether all the spending is doing any good.

Here are a few of the many bills meant to affect the FCC’s universal service programs, either growing them or shrinking them. Unfortunately, like our phone subsidies, this list is in no particular order. It’s in disarray too!

Telecom Immunity Reax

Thursday, July 10th, 2008

Yesterday the Senate passed H.R. 6304, The FISA Amendments Act of 2008, clearing it for the President’s signature. Among other things, it gave telecommunications companies immunity for allegedly participating in illegal wiretapping at the behest of the government. There are strong opinions on both sides of the issue. As you’ll see below, WashingtonWatch.com visitors were strongly opposed. And here’s Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold (D) speaking about how the bill affects privacy:

The President, of course, was strongly in favor. Click to see his statement:

President Bush on FISA passage @ Yahoo! Video

As soon as the bill is signed into law, the bill page will have links to the final votes in both the House and the Senate. Use them to find your representatives and senators, and let them know what you think.

Here is the voting on the bill. Click to vote, comment, learn more, and edit the wiki article: