Policy Alert: Potential Impacts of a Federal Government Shutdown on Tribal Telecommunications

EJ John and Dr. Traci Morris

American Indian Policy Institute

At this time, the United States government will likely shut down due to Congress not coming together to pass needed legislation through a continuing resolution or the required appropriations bills.  Given this situation, each federal agency has created agency contingency plans.  As Tribal Government relationships with the Federal Government are intertwined, there will be many impacts on Tribal communities.  One area of impact is communications and telecommunications.  The shutdown will affect all agencies and programs in some capacity. This alert addresses programs administered by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA). However, the Federal Government maintains a website–Internet for All– consolidating all investments in the Internet, and many, if not all, of these programs will likely be wound down or somehow impacted during a government shutdown.

According to agency plans, programs from prior year appropriations or deemed core emergency programs will continue, but the extent of the continuation is unclear.  For example, the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) functions will continue to be funded, but it is unclear if new applications and customer support for signups will be supported.  It is anticipated that staffing, technical assistance, and the like will not be supported even if the program is. 

Federal Communications Commission (FCC) 

The FCC administers several important programs that impact broadband infrastructure development in Indian Country, such as the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) and the E-Rate program. The FCC’s shutdown plan states that broadband affordability programs like the ACP program will continue during a lapse but does not specifically mention the E-rate program. The FCC’s plan outlines the following agency activities that will continue during a lapse:

  • Activities necessary for the protection of life or property.
  • Permissible Spectrum Auction activities that are funded through a source other than lapsed annual appropriations and not affected by the partial lapse in the FCC’s spectrum auctions authority.
  • Broadband data and mapping activities funded through a source other than lapsed annual appropriations.
  • Emergency relief programs, including the ACP, Emergency Connectivity Fund, and Telehealth Programs, are funded through a source other than lapsed annual appropriations.

FCC activities that will not continue during a lapse include but are not limited to:

  • Response to consumer complaints and inquiry phone lines.
  • Consumer protection and local competition enforcement.
  • Licensing services, including broadcast, wireless, and wireline.
  • Management of radio spectrum and the creation of new opportunities for competitive services for the American public.
  • Equipment authorization.
  • All other activities not immediately necessary for the protection of life or property or otherwise excepted or funded through a source other than lapsed annual appropriations.

National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) 

NTIA programs such as the Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program (TBCP) and the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment Program (BEAD) are key programs for Indian Country. NTIA’s shutdown plan indicates that programs such as the BEAD program, the Enabling Middle Mile Broadband Infrastructure Program, the Digital Equity Act programs, and the Tribal Broadband Connectivity Grant program will continue through a lapse. These programs will continue to the extent that they are funded through other sources. NTIA’s plan also states that the following activities will continue through a lapse:

  • Management of federal spectrum;
  • support policy and international treaty development in the areas of the Internet economy, including online privacy, copyright protection, cybersecurity, and the global free flow of information online;
  • promote the stability and security of the Internet’s domain name system.

NTIA activities funded by other sources that will continue through a lapse include:

  • Telecommunications research and engineering
  • Continuing to build and operate a nationwide public safety broadband network, as well as support state and local governments to plan for their participation in the network
  • Implement certain grant programs
  • Strengthen and seek greater efficiencies with federal spectrum use.