According to numerous media reports, the incoming Biden administration aims to address broadband disparities in the U.S. with billions in new funding. The Biden broadband plan aims to address both access and affordability.
Like many issues in Washington these days, additional Biden administration broadband funding could be wrapped in Covid-19 pandemic relief funding, at least initially. Biden has endorsed an initial $4 billion package that would be used to help low-income Americans pay for internet service and not be disconnected during the pandemic, according to a Washington Post report.
Hundreds of millions of dollars in funding for broadband programs has already been allocated from the first pandemic relief act, the CARES Act, signed into law by President Trump in March. That $2 trillion relief act specifically allocated $300 million for telecom programs, but also allowed states to allocate additional funds towards broadband initiatives within their states.
A recent report from the National Governors Association outlined many examples of how states used CARES Act funding for broadband projects.
The House of Representatives has passed another multi-trillion dollar pandemic relief bill, the Heroes Act, but the Senate has yet to act on it. The initial $4 billion for supporting internet access is included in the Heroes Act.
The Heroes Act also includes $1.5 billion for the FCC’s E-Rate program and an additional $2 billion for the FCC’s Rural Health Care Program. It also funds the FCC’s updated broadband mapping program, a necessary step before the FCC can auction off $9 billion in funding for rural 5G.
Beyond pandemic relief, the Biden administration has signaled interest in broader infrastructure funding that would include billions in broadband funding. There are several bills in Congress focused on this issue, including a $100 billion broadband infrastructure bill, the Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act, introduced by Rep. James E. Clyburn (D-S.C.).
Biden specifically called out a commitment to universal broadband last week as he outlined his broader economic-recovery agenda, according to the Washington Post report. Biden will still have to negotiate with Congress for any broadband funding plan, whether stand-alone or as a part of a broader pandemic relief package. Not a trivial undertaking in today’s political climate.