- Nearly half of the funds will be used to provide new monthly benefits to low-income families.
- The US Congress also agreed to allocate funds to expand Internet services to the most remote areas of the United States.
- More than half of low-income households said they were worried that they might not be able to afford broadband and mobile phones.
According to reports, on Monday evening, the U.S. Congress passed a large-scale COVID-19 assistance program that allocated $7 billion to help Americans obtain high-speed broadband services and pay monthly fees. This is one of the largest one-time broadband investments in US history.
Nearly half of the funds will be used to provide new monthly benefits to low-income families.
The goal is to ensure that when the epidemic forces people to work and study remotely from home, people who have lost their source of income can continue to use broadband services.
The total amount of this investment is slightly lower than the aid law passed by the US Congress in 2009 under the shadow of the economic recession.
“The $50 a month subsidy is a big deal. There are more people in cities who cannot afford internet access than there are people in rural areas without access,” said Christopher Mitchell, director of community broadband for the Institute for Local Self-Reliance.
The US Congress also agreed to allocate funds to expand Internet services to the most remote areas of the United States, upgrade infrastructure that may have security vulnerabilities, and draw a map of the US Internet coverage to guide the government to better use funds in the future.
On Tuesday, telecommunications industry giants, consumer rights organizations, and US government policymakers praised this broadband investment.
Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Democratic leader of the Senate Committee on Technology and Commerce, said that the bill could “bring a little help” after the new coronavirus epidemic proved the consequences of the lack of Internet access.
However, she continued to call on Congress to increase spending on future aid work for the new coronavirus to fill other gaps, especially in the field of education. This time, the US Congress did not authorize new funds to help students access the Internet more conveniently.
Congress has increased its investment in high-speed, reliable Internet services, demonstrating the unique situation caused by the new coronavirus epidemic and the economic inequality exposed by the epidemic.
The United States is still plagued by the digital divide. Only some people have used reliable broadband services, and millions of people are still not covered by broadband. The problem is particularly evident in low-income families, and children are the most severely affected. Lack of broadband may prevent children from completing their education.
The Pew Research Center’s survey shows that in the early stages of the outbreak, more than half of low-income households said they were worried that they might not be able to afford broadband and mobile phones.
A few months later, more than 10 million Americans were unemployed, and many experienced wage cuts, forced vacations, and other economic difficulties, which could further magnify the crisis.
This assistance program will provide relief to some of these families. An approximately $3 billion plan will provide low-income families in the United States with up to $50 per month in subsidies to pay for broadband. Families in tribal areas can receive up to $75 per month.
Matt Wood, vice president of policy at the rights organization Free Press, believes that at least 33 million families will be eligible for this benefit.
In addition, people who are unemployed due to the epidemic, and those who have participated in other “safety net” projects, such as affordable school lunches, may also be eligible for new broadband subsidies.
“Many Americans have struggled during this pandemic, including the tens of millions without broadband. The digital divide has morphed into the COVID-19 divide,” FCC Commissioner Geoffrey Starks said in a statement.
“For too many families, that means missing out on work and opportunities, using Wi-Fi in parking lots to complete schoolwork, traveling to in-person medical visits instead of using telehealth, and missing connections with friends and family,” Starks said.