Democrats include $5 billion in broadband funding in virus relief package

Schools and libraries could buy laptops, tablets, Wi-Fi hotspots and other connective equipment

A tower technician repairs a dish on a wireless tower in rural Rio Blanco County in Colorado in 2017.  (Denver Post via Getty Images)
A tower technician repairs a dish on a wireless tower in rural Rio Blanco County in Colorado in 2017. (Denver Post via Getty Images)
Posted May 12, 2020 at 5:13pm

The coronavirus relief legislation unveiled by House Democrats on Tuesday includes more than $5 billion to keep Americans connected to the internet during the ongoing pandemic.

The legislation, on which the House is expected to vote Friday, includes $1.5 billion to close the so-called homework gap facing students who lack high-speed internet access at home even as schools across the country remain closed as a result of the virus and have moved to online learning.

Under the legislation, the Federal Communications Commission would be authorized to disburse $5 billion to schools and libraries “to provide internet service […] to students and teachers, prioritizing those without internet access at home,” according to the bill summary.

Schools and libraries receiving the funding would be authorized to use it for laptops, tablets, Wi-Fi hotspots, modems, routers and other devices to keep students and teachers connected. The bill sets aside five percent of funding for students living on tribal lands.

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Schools would also be able to tap the legislation’s $90 billion State Fiscal Stabilization Fund for technology purchases. The fund would award grants to states for elementary, secondary and public postsecondary institutions, and could be used for technology “that aids in regular and substantive interactions between students and their classroom instructor,” the summary said.

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The bill also includes $4 billion for emergency home connectivity, according to a Democratic summary of the legislation, and would offer households with individuals who were laid off or furloughed as a result of the pandemic a $50 monthly credit to use for internet access. The monthly credit is increased to $75 for recipients on tribal lands.

To ensure that internet access is not interrupted for households that cannot afford it, the legislation would prohibit internet service providers from terminating accounts of customers who cannot pay as a result of the pandemic.