The Broadcasting Board of Governors will receive $10 million under the compromise spending deal reached last week. President Obama effectively sided with the BBG over his own State Department in a funding dispute involving Internet circumvention work.
Obama and lawmakers agreed to language in the fiscal 2011 spending bill cutting the State Department’s share and giving the BBG a portion to “expand unrestricted access to information on the Internet.” The BBG operates five government-sponsored international broadcasting networks.
At stake was $30 million to advance Internet freedom. The BBG, which previously received $1.4 million from the State Department, was unlikely to get any funding this year without congressional intervention.
As a result of the deal, which still must be approved by Congress, the BBG is guaranteed $10 million for its anti-censorship work in China and other repressive regimes. Such efforts, for example, will allow Chinese citizens to circumvent the country’s firewall to access Voice of America on the Internet.
Over the past few years, Congress has given the State Department a total of $50 million to advance Internet freedom, including $30 million as part of the fiscal 2010 spending bill. But when the bulk of that money went unspent for more than 18 months — and requests from the BBG were unanswered — lawmakers decided to get involved.
Chief among them was Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.), who authored a report about public diplomacy toward China in the age of the Internet. Lugar’s report concluded “the BBG is perfectly placed to serve as the lead U.S. government agency in assisting [Internet Censorship Circumvention Technology] efforts.”
That sentiment resonated among fellow lawmakers, prompting House Republicans to include the language in the spending deal.