Broadband at home

A draft of the Senate broadband infrastructure bill shows a budget of $685 million for a program aimed at increasing broadband adoption. The draft also shows that the Senate is considering renaming the Emergency Broadband Benefits affordability program and extending it beyond the COVID pandemic with some changes to its terms.

These initiatives would be in addition to a funding program aimed at covering some of the costs of deploying broadband to unserved areas. In a blog post published last week, Telecompetitor reported on the infrastructure program proposed in the bill.

In today’s post, we look at the adoption and affordability programs proposed in the draft bill.

Proposed Adoption Program

As it does with broadband infrastructure funding, the bill would leave much of the decision-making involving adoption to individual states.

The proposed broadband adoption program, which would be known as the Digital Equity Capacity Grant program, would be administered by individual states in conformance with guidelines laid out in the draft bill.

States would be able to use the funds to develop and carry out a digital equity plan for the state. States would be eligible for funding to create the digital equity plan by selecting an appropriate entity such as a state agency, not-for-profit foundation or community anchor institution to administer the program and committing to delivering the plan within one year.

The state digital equity plan would have to meet guidelines defined in the broadband infrastructure draft bill such as identifying barriers to digital equity and establishing measurable objectives for documenting and promoting the availability and affordability of “fixed and wireless” broadband technology, digital literacy and other factors.

Upon approval of its digital equity plan and after committing to certain other requirements, a state would be eligible for state capacity grants, which would be used for digital inclusion activities, including implementing the digital equity plan.

The bill would allocate $60 million for planning grants and $125 million annually for five years for capacity grants.

The funding targeted for each eligible state would be based on several factors, including:

  • the population of the state in proportion to all eligible states
  • comparative lack of availability and adoption of broadband of all eligible states.
  • the number of individuals in the eligible state who are members of “covered populations” in proportion to the total number of individuals in all eligible states who are members of such populations

“Covered populations” are defined to include aging individuals; incarcerated individuals, other than individuals who are incarcerated in a federal correctional facility; veterans; individuals with disabilities; individuals with a language barrier; members of a racial or ethnic minority group and individuals who primarily reside in a rural area.

Proposed Affordability Program

The affordability program proposed in the broadband infrastructure bill draft would be known as the Affordable Connectivity Program and would be modeled on the Emergency Broadband Benefit program, which was established to cover some of the costs of broadband service and devices for low-income households during the COVID pandemic.

That program has a limited budget and was not intended to extend beyond the pandemic. The new program would have a longer life, but certain terms would change.

The bill draft does not include a budget for the program, perhaps because the funding required would depend on how many people sign up for the program.

Additional information about the proposed Digital Equity Capacity Grant program and the Affordable Connectivity program can be found in the full text of the bill draft.

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