US COVID-19 relief bill includes $7 billion for broadband internet access

Half of it would cover internet access for low-income families.

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JACKSONVILLE, FL-November 12, 2020: Eric Lipka sits at the dining room table during a remote learning Psychology class in their Jacksonville, Florida apartment. Georgetown University sophomore Eric Lipka, 19, started college on campus but the outbreak of COVID-19 forced Lipka into a remote learning situation from their apartment in Jacksonville, FL. Lipka is currently waiting for the school to announce its plans for the spring semester which will determine if they return to in-person class or take a gap semester. (Photo by Bob Self for The Washington Post via Getty Images)
Bob Self for The Washington Post via Getty Images

Congress’ long-awaited COVID-19 relief bill could be good news for those who need to learn and work remotely during the pandemic. Axios has learned the package in the newly agreed deal earmarks $7 billion for broadband access. About $3.2 billion of that would go to an Emergency Broadband Benefit (prompted by legislation from Sen. Ron Wyden) that would offer low-income families $50 per month toward internet access vital to classwork and remote-capable jobs.

The rest of the bill is mixed, according to a Capitol Hill aide. It devotes $1 billion to Tribal broadband initiatives. About $300 million would go to rural broadband, $285 million would back a broadband pilot for communities near historically Black colleges, $250 million would go to the FCC’s telehealth push and $65 million would aid broadband mapping. Notably, $1.9 billion is slated for replacing Huawei and ZTE equipment — this isn’t strictly about improving access.

There’s no certainty the $7 billion will be enough to sustain broadband through 2021 and the (hopeful) pandemic recovery. It could deliver internet access for those that need it most, though, and some of the projects could lay the groundwork for future broadband rollouts.

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