I’m sharing the following email post from Sean Davis at NDIA (National Digital Inclusion Alliance) with permission. It’s a concise breakdown of what the Act will mean on the front lines of the digital divide…
The Consolidated Appropriations Act 2021 (COVID Relief bill) includes several provisions that address broadband deployment and digital inclusion, particularly broadband affordability.
In the bill, there is $3.2 billion for an Emergency Broadband Benefit program, which will reimburse internet service providers (ISPs) for providing broadband service and devices to low-income households.
In order to take advantage, a member of the household must meet one of the following criteria:
- Be Lifeline eligible
- Eligible for existing discount broadband programs
- Have children eligible for free and reduced school lunches
- Have a household member who is a Pell Grant recipient
- Have a household member who is unemployed.
At the moment, here are the important details to keep in mind:
- The FCC is required to create regulations implementing the program in 60 days after the date of the bill’s enactment, including a 20 day public comment (due Jan. 25th) and 20 day public reply comment (due February 16th) periods.
- Households will get a benefit of up to $50 per month for internet service ($75 on tribal lands).
- The eligible service plans must have been offered by a broadband provider as of December 1, 2020.
- ISP participation in the Emergency Broadband Benefit program is voluntary.
Additionally, the Act lists digital inclusion and broadband adoption as activities eligible for funding within “Tribal Connectivity” and the “Office of Minority Broadband Initiatives”.
The Act provides $1 billion for Tribal connectivity to expand access to and adoption of broadband service on Tribal land; or remote learning, telework, or telehealth resources during the COVID-19 pandemic. Participants may request grant funds for:
- broadband infrastructure deployment,
- affordable broadband programs, including— providing free or reduced-cost broadband service; and preventing disconnection of existing broadband service;
- distance learning;
- digital inclusion efforts; and
- broadband adoption activities.
The Act also provides $300 million for the creation of the Office of Minority Broadband Initiatives within NTIA to engage in digital inclusion efforts including:
- collaborate with Federal Agencies to facilitate broadband internet service programs and expand them to anchor communities.
- collaborate with State, local, and Tribal governments, historically Black colleges or universities (HBCUs), Tribal Colleges or Universities, Minority-serving institutions, and stakeholders in various fields to support digital inclusion efforts for the recipients’ respective communities.
Since the bill has just been signed into law, there are many aspects and details that have not been ironed out. However, the Act allows for input, which NDIA plans to give. You will hear from us soon on this.
For more information please visit NDIA’s blog post with our overview of the Consolidated Appropriations Act.