While most of the new federal money for broadband — some $65 billion — is in the infrastructure bill whose fate is tied to President Joe Biden‘s $1.7 trillion-plus Build Back Better legislative package, that package also has more than $1 billion dollars for various better broadband building programs.
That includes almost a half-billion dollars to subsidize WiFi devices and $100 million to educate the public on the billions of dollars in broadband funding to low-income residents, schools, libraries and students the FCC is already handing out.
According to a draft copy of the compromise Build Back Better framework the president unveiled Thursday (Oct. 28), it includes:
• $475 million for grants (plus another $20 million in administrative expenses and another $5 million on outreach) to fund the distribution of WiFi-enabled connected devices (desktops, laptops, tablets and phones) that will allow all those potential broadband subs, including in low income and diverse communities, to access the broadband that is being subsidized. The device money includes for both new and refurbished devices with a maximum of one household of two people or fewer and two devices for households with three or more.
• $300 million more for the FCC’s emergency connectivity fund for distant learning, though not for any equipment the agency has determined is a threat to national security, so none for tech from Chinese firms Huawei or ZTE.
• $250 million for grants to public-private partnerships for pilot projects to find long-term solutions to boosting access to affordable broadband in urban areas. The government has been primarily focused on closing the rural digital divide, but has increasingly added urban communities and their affordability issues to its plate.
• $100 million for outreach and education “regarding the broadband and communications affordability programs of the Federal Communications Commission.”
• $7 million to stand up a 14-member Future of Telecommunications Council to advise Congress on “the development and adoption of 6G and other advanced wireless communications technologies, including 14 ensuring equity in access to those technologies for communities of color and rural communities.”
• $5 million to create the Affordable Urban and Suburban Broadband Advisory Committee, which as its name suggests, would advise the administration — specifically the FCC and National Telecommunications & Information Administration — on making broadband more affordable to both urban and suburban broadband subscribers.
Connect Americans Now, an eclectic coalition of connectivity advocates ranging from computer companies and app developers to barley growers and bison raisers, praised the inclusion of all those broadband bucks for building back better.
“Connect Americans Now commends President Biden and Congressional leaders for maintaining their commitment to additional solutions to increase digital equity and help bridge the digital divide,” executive director Richard Cullen said. “Access to an affordable, reliable broadband connection, and the devices needed to unlock the full potential of digital technology, are essential to protecting and realizing the American Dream in the 21st Century economy and classroom.”
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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.