The United States Congress has agreed on a $900 billion COVID-19 relief package, which lawmakers say will include $7 billion in broadband funding.
According to a joint statement released by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), that $7 billion will cover "a new Emergency Broadband Benefit to help millions of students, families and unemployed workers afford the broadband they need during the pandemic."
The largest chunk of the bill is $3.2 billion in funding to provide a $50 monthly emergency broadband benefit for anyone laid off or furloughed during the pandemic, a measure introduced by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) in the original HEROES Act.
Also, according to reporting in Axios, the $7 billion includes $1 billion in grants for Tribal broadband programs, $300 million for rural broadband infrastructure grants, $285 million for a pilot program to help with broadband issues for communities near historically Black colleges and universities; $250 million for telehealth; and $65 million for broadband mapping.
Lastly, much less to do with the crisis at hand, another $1.9 billion will go toward replacing Huawei and ZTE equipment in broadband networks.
The $7 billion allotted for broadband is significantly less than what was put forth in the original HEROES Act, as well as the updated version of the bill, released in October. That version included: "$12 billion to close the homework gap by providing funding for Wi-Fi hotspots and connected devices for students and library patrons, $3 billion for emergency home connectivity, $200 million for telemedicine grants, and $24 million for broadband mapping," according to a bill summary.
While the House passed the original $3 trillion HEROES Act in May, this latest, much smaller package – once passed – will be the first to head to the president's desk since the $2 trillion CARES Act in March. That bill included funding that several states chose to put toward broadband expansion projects. But how far those investments go remains to be seen, as states were required to spend CARES cash on projects that could be up and running by December 30 or else risk losing their federal funding. Indeed, some states, like New Hampshire and Vermont, have already scaled back their projects due to the tight timeline.
— Nicole Ferraro, contributing editor, Light Reading