Biden’s ‘historic’ $ 65 billion broadband plan approved by Congress

Enlarge / President Joe Biden speaks about the passage of the Infrastructure Bill at a White House press conference on November 6, 2021.

Getty Images | Samuel corum

President Biden’s $ 65 billion broadband plan was passed by the House of Representatives on Friday as part of the $ 1.2 trillion Law on investment in infrastructure and employment. While not as important as Biden’s original broadband plan, the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society called him “The largest investment by the United States in the deployment of broadband ever”.

The largest portion of the broadband spending is $ 42.45 billion for a broadband equity, access and deployment program that would provide grants to ISPs who build in unserved areas. An additional $ 14.2 billion goes to an affordable connectivity fund that is essentially a longer-term version of the emergency broadband benefits program created for the pandemic. In the new version, the subsidies for eligible households will be $ 30 per month instead of the original $ 50.

Another broadband provision provides $ 2.75 billion for digital equity grants to states to “facilitate broadband uptake by covered populations to provide education and employment opportunities for those affected. populations “. Grants can cover a variety of needs, including training, broadband equipment and “public access computing centers for populations covered through community-based institutions”. Populations covered include low-income households, racial and ethnic minorities, rural residents, veterans, people with disabilities, people with language barriers, and people aged 60 and over.

There is also $ 2 billion for grants and broadband loans distributed by the Department of Agriculture. Rural public services, $ 2 billion for Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program grants, $ 1 billion for intermediary network grants, and $ 600 million in private activity bonds for broadband projects.

“The bipartite infrastructure deal will provide $ 65 billion to help ensure that every American has access to reliable high-speed internet through a historic investment in the deployment of broadband infrastructure,” the White House said. noted Friday. “The legislation will also help lower the prices of Internet services and bridge the digital divide, so more Americans can afford Internet access.”

The infrastructure bill was approved by the Senate in August, and Biden is expected to sign the final version soon.

High-speed consumer labels relaunched

The infrastructure bill revives the Obama-era Federal Communications Commission broadband consumer labels that were removed under the Trump administration. The bill directs the FCC to issue rules within one year “to require the display of broadband consumer labels, as described in the Commission’s public notice issued April 4, 2016” .

This April 2016 public notice Consumption labels offered that include full monthly fees and charges billed by each ISP, information on data caps and overage charges, and information on network performance, including typical speeds, latency and packet loss. The Infrastructure Bill states that new broadband consumer labels must also “include information as to whether the price offered is an introductory price and, if so, the price that the consumer will have to pay after the launch period ”.

Biden initially launched $ 100 billion

Biden initially proposed a $ 100 billion broadband plan in March, but reduced it to $ 65 billion in June as part of a deal with Republicans and Senate Democrats. Biden’s first plan would have prioritized funding for broadband networks owned by municipalities, nonprofits and co-ops, but this was not included in the final bill.

The 228-206 House Vote Friday played out mostly party-wise, with 13 Republicans supporting the bill and six Democrats voting against because they wanted the infrastructure bill to be coupled with Biden’s “Rebuild better“act, a climate and social spending plan.

“We applaud the House and Senate for passing this important package, which includes a $ 65 billion investment to make broadband available and affordable across the country,” said Chris Lewis, CEO of the Consumer Advocacy Group Public Knowledge. noted. “As advocates for affordable broadband, we are excited to see the investment of $ 14.2 billion to expand emergency broadband delivery created in the COVID-19 relief bill. We applaud the provisions of the bill that fund digital equity initiatives and require Internet service providers to use a uniform label so that customers can easily compare. [I]Internet packages. “

Lewis said it was disappointing that the monthly household subsidy had been reduced from $ 50 to $ 30 and urged states to “ensure their low-cost option takes this reduction into account.”

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