The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA): Budget, Programs, and Issues
The National Telecommunications and
Information Administration (NTIA): Budget,
Programs, and Issues
Glenn J. McLoughlin
Specialist in Technology and Telecommunications Policy
Resources, Science, and Industry Division
For FY2009, the Bush Administration has proposed a budget of $19.2 million for
NTIA, with this money going towards administrative functions. There would be no
funding under another NTIA program, which supports public telecommunications
facilities planning and construction. Under the FY2008 enacted appropriation (P.L.
110-161) NTIA is funded at $36.3 million, which was $3.3 million below the FY2007
enacted and $17.7 million above the President’s request. There are two major
components to the NTIA appropriated budget (a third program, which is a revolving
fund based on spectrum auctions, is discussed below). The first is Salaries and
Expenses. For FY2008, the Bush Administration recommended $18.6 million; Congress
approved $17.5 million for FY2008. In the past, a large part of this program has been
for the management of various information and telecommunications policies both
domestically and internationally. For the second NTIA component, the Public
Telecommunications and Facilities Program (PTFPC), the Bush Administration has
requested that this program’s funding be eliminated, arguing that most of the
construction and refurbishing of public telecommunications facilities has already been
done, and that any remaining support that is needed should come from local public
broadcasting entities. However, for FY2008, Congress disagreed, citing the ongoing
need for upgrading of public broadcasting facilities, particularly as the deadline of
converting all analog broadcasts to digital in 2009 approaches. For FY2008, Congress
funded this program at $18.8 million. Under at third program, NTIA operates a
revolving fund which uses offset receipts from the auction of licenses recovered from
discontinued analog signals. An important part of this program is to fund a digital-
analog converter box program to assist consumers in meeting the February 2009
deadline for receiving television broadcasts in digital format.
The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), a part
of the Department of Commerce, is the executive branch’s principal advisory office on
domestic and international telecommunications and information technology issues and
policies. Among its objectives, it has a mandate to provide greater access for all
Americans to telecommunications services; to provide support for U.S. attempts to open
foreign telecommunications and information markets; to advise the Secretary of
Commerce, the President, and Vice President and the executive branch in international
telecommunications and information negotiations; to fund research grants for new
technologies and their applications; and to assist non-profit organizations in converting
to digital transmission in the 21st century.1
Generally, congressional policymakers have supported the NTIA’s mandate and
objectives through the appropriations process. The recent history of the NTIA budget,
FY2000-FY2007, is as follows (appropriations for FY2008 will be included once the final
bill has been passed):
Table 1. NTIA Funding FY2000-FY2009
(in millions of dollars)
Request Appropri at i o ns
FY2000 $72.3 $52.9
FY2001 423.0 100.4
FY2007 17.8 39.6a
FY2008 18.6 36.3b
a. P.L. 110-5, the Revised Continuing Appropriations Resolution
2007, extends FY2006 funding for NTIA through FY2007.
b. P.L. 110-161, the Omnibus Appropriations Act of FY2008.
1 See [http://www.ntia.doc.gov/ntiahome/ntiafacts.htm]. Last viewed February 26, 2008.
It should be noted that in FY2001, the Clinton Administration requested additional
funding for digitizing existing public broadcasting transmissions and construction of new
public digital broadcasting facilities. While the final appropriations did not match the
Clinton Administration’s request of $423 million, it represented a substantial increase in
NTIA’s historical budget. Congress has generally maintained consistent funding for
NTIA in its appropriations, regardless of the request.
For FY2009, the Bush Administration has proposed a continued reduction in the
NTIA budget, primarily reflected in eliminating NTIA’s program to construct and
maintain public telecommunications facilities. The Administration also sees NTIA having
a larger role in national emergency planning (see below).
Programs and Budgets
Until FY2004, the NTIA budget had three major components: salaries and expenses;
information infrastructure grants programs; and public telecommunications facilities,
planning and construction. However, the infrastructure grants program was eliminated
in FY2005. In both FY2006 and FY2007, the Bush Administration requested ending
funding for the public telecommunications facilities, planning and construction program.
Salaries and Expenses. This portion of the NTIA budget includes funding to
maintain ongoing programs for domestic and international policy development, federal
spectrum and related research. For FY2009, the Bush Administration has requested $19.2
million. According to the Administration, this would sustain current efforts to provide
basic research, analytical, and management topics of interest to the U.S.
telecommunications and information sectors of the economy.
Other administrative and policy responsibilities that fall to NTIA but are not separate
program functions include domestic and international telecommunications policymaking.
The NTIA advises the President, Vice President and Secretary of Commerce on
international telecommunications treaties and represents U.S. positions and policies at
international conferences, such as the World Radio Conference held by the International
Telecommunication Union. The NTIA also advises the executive branch on ways to
implement the 1996 Telecommunications Act (P.L. 104-104), further competition in
telecommunications and develop “technology neutral” telecommunications policies. At
the same time, it has produced a series of reports on the “digital divide” in America —
who comprises this divide and what policies may help close the divide.2 The NTIA also
is overseeing the transition of the management of the Internet domain name system to the
2 “Digital divide” commonly refers to those who have access to the Internet and those who do not.
While some contend that the “digital divide” is a political, not policy, issue, the NTIA has
published a series of Department of Commerce reports on the status of Internet use in the United
States by demographics. See The National Telecommunications and Information Administration,
U.S. Department of Commerce. A Nation Online: How Americans Are Expanding Their Use of
the Internet. February 2002.
3 For more on domain names and the role of NTIA, see CRS Report 97-868, Internet Domain
Names: Background and Policy Issues, by Lennard G. Kruger.
Spectrum Policy. Among the many administrative functions that also fall under
salaries and expenses is management of the U.S. spectrum for federal use. The Federal
Communications Commission (FCC) has the primary role of managing the non-federal
portion of the spectrum, which not only includes private sector use, but state and local
government use of the spectrum as well. The NTIA also advises the President and
executive branch on national spectrum policy, manages the federal portion of the
spectrum for public safety use, and encourages policies that provide greater private sector
use of existing broadcast spectrum.4
Domain Names. The Department of Commerce, through NTIA, maintains formal
oversight over the International Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN),
the private, non-profit corporation which serves as the technical coordinator of the domain
name system. ICANN’s authority is governed by a Memorandum of Understanding
(MOU) with the Department of Commerce and NTIA. The MOU was intended to
provide the transition of the management of the domain name system to the private sector,
with the United States and other governments participating as minority stakeholders. The
NTIA is currently the accredited U.S. government’s representative to ICANN’s
Government Advisory Committee (GAC).5
Digital Transition. The third NTIA program that the Bush Administration has
requested funding for comes out of the 2005 Deficit Reduction Act. That law — and new
NTIA program — called for the creation of a Digital Transition and Safety Public Fund,
which offset receipts from the auction of licenses to use electromagnetic spectrum
recovered from discontinued analog television signals. The Bush Administration began
setting these reimbursable funds at $45 million in FY2007. The receipts would fund the
following programmatic functions at NTIA: a digital-analog converter box program to
assist consumers in meeting the 2009 deadline for receiving television broadcasts in
digital format; public safety interoperable communications grants, which will be made to
ensure that public safety agencies have a standardized format for sharing voice and data
signals on the radio spectrum; New York City 9/11 digital transition funding, until the
planned Freedom Tower is built; assistance to low-power television stations, for
conversion from analog to digital transition; a national alert and tsunami warning
program; and funding to enhance a national alert system as stated in the ENHANCE 911
Act of 2004.6
Public Telecommunications Facilities, Planning and Construction
(PTFPC). The PTFPC program in NTIA assists public broadcasting stations, state and
local governments, Indian tribes, and non-profit organizations construct facilities to bring
educational and cultural programs to the U.S. public using broadcast and non-broadcast
telecommunications and information technologies.7 The program provides competitive
grants to public broadcasting organizations to plan, buy and employ new broadcast
4 For more on spectrum management and auction issues, see CRS Report RL31764, Spectrum
Management: Auctions, by Linda K. Moore.
5 CRS Report 97-868, Internet Domain Names: Background and Policy Issues, by Lennard G.
6 CRS Report RL32594, Public Safety Communications Policy, by Linda K. Moore
7 See [http://www.ntia.doc.gov/ntiahome/ntiafacts.htm]. Viewed June 27, 2007.
equipment and services nationwide. The public broadcast system had a mandate to
convert all of its television broadcasts to digital by May 31, 2003. The Corporation for
Public Broadcasting has reported that most, but not all, of its public broadcast members
have me that goal.
For FY2009, the Bush Administration has requested zero funding, to close out
existing digital construction and conversion projects and to end NTIA’s role in this area.
The Bush Administration is seeking to place all funding for construction of public
broadcasting facilities and conversion of analog broadcast to digital in the federal funding
for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, so it can expedite digital conversion.
Technology Opportunity Program (TOP). In FY2005, the Bush
Administration requested the termination of NTIA’s information infrastructure grants
program, called the Technology Opportunity Program (TOP). Congress agreed with this
request and eliminated funding for this program.8 TOP was a competitive, merit-based
matching grant program that was started in FY1994 to provide emerging
telecommunications and information technologies to grant recipients in new and
innovative ways.9 The Bush Administration and Congress agreed that this program had
successfully served its purpose of creating new pilot programs in areas not served or
underserved by telecommunications and Internet technologies. While some policymakers
have called for new funding for this program, no new legislation authorizing
appropriations has been introduced to date.
Policymakers continue to examine the proper role of NTIA in supporting its
programs and policies, as well as the overall budget for NTIA to support its mission.
According to some, the Telecommunications Act of 1996 set into law a de-regulatory
environment that requires less, not more, federal direction of telecommunications and
information technology use. The explosive growth of the Internet since the mid-1990s
has reached nearly every part of America, and Internet access is virtually ubiquitous.
Therefore, beyond budget issues, the role of NTIA has changed in some policy areas.
Two important issues facing NTIA’s administration of public telecommunications
policy are domain name registration and use of spectrum. Regarding domain names, the
expiration of the Department of Commerce/NTIA MOU with ICANN on September 30,
2006, has led to speculation over whether, and how, the MOU might be renewed. IT also
has raised concerns over the extent to which (if at all) NTIA might ultimately relinquish
control over ICANN and the domain name system. Second, some are concerned that
NTIA is seeking to develop a larger and broader policy role in spectrum management as
a result of losing funding in other program areas, such as the TOP program and perhaps
eventually the PTFPC program. Because spectrum and its use is an important alternative
to terrestrial communications transmission and reception, federal policy regarding its use
8 Before 2000, the TOP program was called the Technology Information Infrastructure Assistance
9 The TOP program was funded between $17 million to $21 million in the years preceding its
termination. For more information on the funding history of this program, see
[http://www.osec.doc.gov/bmi/budget/06BIB/ntia.pdf]. Viewed June 27, 2007.
and applications is an important national issue. Some question whether NTIA’s evolving
role in spectrum management is being fully coordinated with other federal institutions,
such as that of the Federal Communications Commission.10
A second important issue is the role of NTIA in the auction and management of
spectrum. The third NTIA program that is administered by NTIA but not directly funded
by appropriated money comes out of the 2005 Deficit Reduction Act. That law (P.L. 109-
171) called for the creation of a Digital Transition and Safety Public Fund, which would
provide funding for further use of the electromagnetic spectrum, by offsetting receipts
received from the auction of licenses to use the older analog spectrum for other purposes.
The initial auction was held on January 24, 2008. The receipts from the auction will fund
the following programmatic functions at NTIA, perhaps the most notable (and receiving
the most public attention) is a digital-analog converter box program to assist consumers
in meeting the February 2009 deadline for receiving television broadcasts in digital
format. Congress is watching this transition period, and NTIA’s role in it, very closely.
Concerns about changes in NTIA’s mission and objectives also has been raised
regarding the Bush Administration’s elimination of funding for the TOP program and
reducing funding for the PTFPC program. The Administration contends that the efforts
of the former will be picked up by the private sector, and the latter by the Corporation for
Public Broadcasting. Some still contend that it is not clear whether all of the possible
areas of information infrastructure development have been saturated through the TOP
program; or if not yet saturated, whether industry will find it profitable to provide the “last
mile”11 of telecommunications and Internet connections in areas not yet served. For
public telecommunications and facilities planning and construction, an issue may arise
as to whether the Corporation for Public Broadcasting has the resources to administer a
facilities construction program. The ultimate question may be whether this change will
fundamentally affect the pace at which national broadcasting is converted to digital
10 To alleviate these concerns, the Bush Administration has announced that the Assistant
Secretary of NTIA will chair an interagency committee, the Policy and Plans Steering Group,
which will seek to implement the President’s November 30, 2004 Spectrum Policy Initiative,
[http://www.ntia.doc.gov/ntiahome/gallery/ppsg01242005.htm]. Viewed June 27, 2007.
11 The “last mile” is a term that applies when an entire telecommunications network is in place,
except for the final connection, or “last mile,” to the user.