On Sunday, Congressional leadership reached agreement on a $900 billion additional COVID-19 pandemic relief package, which includes $7 billion in funding for broadband internet access. Legislators say this is critical funding as Americans continue to learn and work from home as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, so access has become crucial.
According to Sen. Ron Wyden, (D-Ore.), “Broadband connections are essential for Americans seeking to get news jobs, and access school health care and other government services. Ensuring working families can stay online will pay massive dividends for kids’ education, helping people find jobs and jump starting the economic recovery next year.”
The COVID-19 relief package includes Wyden’s Emergency Broadband Connections Act, which provides $3.2 billion in funding to keep working American families connected to the internet by providing $50 per month for emergency broadband coverage for anyone furloughed or laid off during the COVID-19 pandemic. The new relief bill also includes $1 billion in grants for Tribal broadband programs and $300 million in grants for rural broadband infrastructure. According to Axios, the funding also includes “$1.9 billion for ‘rip and replace’ efforts to remove Huawei and ZTE equipment from U.S. networks”; “$285 million that will in part fund a pilot program to help with broadband issues for communities around historically black colleges and universities”; “$250 million for the Federal Communications Commission’s telehealth program”; and “$65 million to improve broadband mapping.”
At the onset of the pandemic, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) announced a $200 million telehealth program. In addition, the funding regarding Huawei and ZTE comes after the FCC designated Huawei and ZTE national security threats. In July, the FCC began to implement these bans, and in September the agency analyzed the cost of removing Huawei and ZTE from U.S. networks; as a result, U.S. telecommunications companies were not allowed to purchase equipment or services produced by these suppliers. In October, the FCC granted 154 applications in the rural tribal priority window. Additionally, in early December, the FCC announced that it allocated $9.2 billion through the Phase I auction for its Rural Digital Opportunity Fund.
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai stated, “I applaud Congress for including in the coronavirus relief and omnibus funding legislation a number of provisions that advance critical national priorities in communications policy.”
The House of Representatives is set to vote on the more than 5,000-page relief package Monday night, and the Senate is set to vote shortly after that.