TR Daily Bipartisan Sponsors of COVID Bill Break Down Broadband Funding
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Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Bipartisan Sponsors of COVID Bill Break Down Broadband Funding

The $748 billion bicameral Bipartisan COVID-19 Emergency Relief Act unveiled late yesterday includes just over $10 billion for various broadband deployment and connectivity programs.

The bill would allocate $6.25 billion for State Broadband Deployment and Broadband Connectivity grants "to bridge the digital divide and ensure affordable access to broadband during the COVID 19 pandemic" and $3 billion for an Emergency Educational Connectivity Fund to provide E-rate support "to educational and distance learning providers to provide hotspots, devices, and other connected devices, and advance digital equity/inclusion," according to background documents released by the bill’s sponsors, who include Sens. Joe Manchin (D., W.Va.), Susan Collins (R., Maine), Mark Warner (D., Va.), Bill Cassidy (R., La.), Jeanne Shaheen (D., N.H.), Lisa Murkowski (R., Alaska), Angus King (I., Maine), Mitt Romney (R., Utah), Maggie Hassan (D., N.H.), Rob Portman (R., Ohio), and Dick Durbin (D., Ill.) and, in the House, Problem Solvers Caucus Co-Chairs Josh Gottheimer (D., N.J.) and Tom Reed (R., N.Y.).

The bill also would allocate $475 million to the COVID-19 Telehealth Program created by last spring’s

Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act "to support efforts of healthcare providers to address coronavirus, including a 20% set aside for small, rural health providers." The FCC administered the disbursement of the $200 million that the CARES Act allocated to the COVID-19 Telehealth Program.

The Bipartisan COVID-19 Emergency Relief Act would also allocate $200 million to the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) "to purchase and distribute Internet-connected devices to libraries in low-income and rural areas" and $100 million to the Department of Veterans Affairs for its Telehealth and Connected Care Program "to purchase, maintain, and refresh devices and services to veterans for provision of access to telehealth service."

When the lawmakers announced the framework for their proposal (TR Daily, Dec. 1), it totaled $908 billion, but yesterday’s announcement broke out the $160 billion in funding for state and local governments and liability protections into a separate bill.

In a joint statement late yesterday, Sens. Ed Markey (D., Mass.), Chris Van Hollen (D., Md.), and Michael Bennet (D., Colo.) and Rep. Grace Meng (D., N.Y.) welcomed the inclusion of their proposed Emergency Educational Connections Act (TR Daily, April 21 and May 12) in the Bipartisan COVID-10 Emergency Relief Act.

Rep. Meng’s bill proposed $2 billion in funding for Wi-Fi hot spots, modems, routers, and Internet-connected devices for students and library patrons during the COVID-19 emergency period, and the Senate version of the bill increased the proposed amount to $4 billion.

The Bipartisan COVID-19 Emergency Relief Act, as noted previously, would allocate $3 billion for those purposes and for digital equity and inclusion.

"We are pleased to see our legislation that funds K-12 distance learning included in this bipartisan coronavirus relief package. We cannot afford to wait another day to connect online our nation’s most vulnerable children to their educators and classmates and to ensure the ‘homework gap’ does not grow into a damaging learning gap as the pandemic continues. This $3 billion in E-rate funding is a strong down payment on ensuring all kids can continue to learn and develop throughout this health crisis," the sponsors of the Emergency Educational Connections Act said. —Lynn Stanton, [email protected]

MainStory: FederalNews Congress BroadbandDeployment BroadbandAdoption Covid19

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