Biden COVID Relief Bill Has Potential $17 Billion-Plus for Broadband

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The just-passed $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill (H.R. 1319) has, potentially, more than $17 billion in funding that could go to subsidize broadband, including a homeowners assistance fund states can tap to subsidize broadband for low-income residents during the pandemic. That is in addition to the $3.2 billion in the Emergency Broadband Benefit Congress approved last December.

As part of the massive bill, which must still be approved by the Senate, the FCC will have 60 days to set up an E-rate Emergency Connectivity Fund (ECF) of $7.6 billion (minus $1 million to pay for FCC Inspector General oversight of the program). The Universal Service Administrative Company, which oversees the FCC's ongoing USF subsidy program, will administer the emergency fund, which will be kept separate from USF subsidies.

Also Read: ISPs Prepare for Broadband Billions

The ECF will go to eligible schools and libraries to pay 100% for the costs of equipment and/or advanced communications service for students both in school and remote learning, and for library patrons both in libraries and remotely. The money is available until 2030.

Currently the FCC's USF E-rate subsidy can't be used for home broadband or equipment, though the FCC under new acting chair Jessica Rosenworcel is trying to change that.

Eligible equipment includes computers, Wi-Fi hotspots, modems, routers, and connected devices.

But Wait, There's More

Also as part of the bill, there is a homeowners assistance fund in the Department of Treasury that will contain $9,961,000,000 that states can tap (until 2025) for payment assistance for "qualified expenses" of individuals, primarily low-income households, who need help due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

While the fund can be used for everything from mortgage relief to flood insurance, it can also be used  for "internet service, including broadband internet access service."

No state will get less than $40 million from the fund.

Also Read: FCC Casts Wide Net for EBB Subsidy Players

The FCC is currently preparing to give out the $3.2 billion EBB funding, which comprises a $50--per-month subsidy to eligible low-income households ($75-per on tribal lands), plus a $100 one-time payment for equipment so long as the recipient of the payment also contributes to the equipment cost.

Note: An earlier version of this story stated the bill amount as $1.7 trillion. The bill is actually for $1.9 trillion.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.