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State AGs Press for More Broadband Funding

A majority of state attorneys general is calling on Congress to boost broadband funding to help the shelter-at-home populace get access to healthcare and education and jobs, and they don't want it counting against their states' ability to qualify for other funding. 

Related: New Bill Expands Rural Healthcare Program to Urban 

The FCC has signaled that the billions it is already allocating to close the digital divide should not go to places where other federal subsidy money has already been allocated. 

The 39 AGs, in a letter to House and Senate leadership, say failure by Congress to provide billions in subsidies in the next COVID-19 aid bill would leave millions struggling to catch up with the rest of the country.

They praised the voluntary efforts by ISPs to keep and boost connectivity during the pandemic. "In recent months, hundreds of broadband service providers have pledged to keep existing customers connected, waive late fees, and open WiFi hotspots to Americans in need. Many companies have gone even further, temporarily offering free or discounted internet access to K-12 and college students, medical providers, and low-income families."

Related: FCC OK's More Telehealth Funding 

But they said such efforts are not sustainable over the long haul.  

They want money to go to state and local governments for universal broadband, particularly for seniors currently with inadequate tech to meet the moment.  

They want flexibility in what they spend the money on and say the funding should remain available in the long-term since long-term solutions are needed.  

They also want the FCC to increase the FCC's Universal Service Fund subsidies for schools and libraries, low income residents, and rural health care programs. 

Congress has already allocated some new broadband spending via the CARES Act COVID-19 relief bill, mostly focused on telemedicine.  

The FCC sought more funding for remote learning in the CARES Act (it did not make it), and in future COVID-19 aid legislation, according to FCC chair Ajit Pai.

Both Pai and the Hill are on the same page that closing the digital divide is even more imperative due to the pandemic-driven stay-more-at-home culture that will continue in some form until there is a vaccine or verified treatment.