Broadband Bites: White House frees $1B for broadband on tribal land
Also in this roundup: 34% low-income homes struggle to pay Internet bills in US; Michigan creates broadband office; CenturyLink updates FCC on CAF; Germany may subsidize Starlink.
- On Thursday, US Vice President Kamala Harris announced that the White House is releasing $1 billion in funds for tribal nations to fortify their broadband infrastructure. The funding was allocated as part of the second COVID-19 relief package passed in December 2020. Indigenous communities may now apply for grants for broadband deployment and adoption projects, digital literacy programs, remote learning and more. Vice President Harris, who was appointed by President Biden to lead the country's universal broadband efforts, stressed that Congress must also pass the administration's infrastructure package in order to close the digital divide. "With the American Jobs Plan, President Joe Biden and I are determined to get to 100% coverage," said Harris. Initially, the American Jobs Plan included $100 billion for broadband, but that number has been reduced to $65 billion in pursuit of an agreement with Senate Republicans.
- A couple of new reports shed light on financial constraints people in the US and UK are facing in paying for broadband. In the US, Pew Research reports that 34% of lower-income home broadband users (or those with household incomes of under $30,000 per year) have had trouble paying for their service throughout the pandemic. That amounts to about 15% of all home broadband users in the country, according to the survey conducted January 25 to February 8, 2021. The survey also found that 25% of home broadband users with annual household incomes ranging from $30,000 to just under $50,000 have had trouble paying their broadband bills during the pandemic, as have roughly 8% of those with household incomes between $50,000-$74,999. In the UK, the consumer group Citizens Advice reports that 2.5 million people are behind on their broadband bills. Going deeper, the group says that both 18- to 34-year-olds and those with children under 18 are three times as likely to be behind on their broadband bills.
- Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer released an executive directive this week establishing the Michigan High-Speed Internet Office, responsible for ensuring that every home and business in Michigan can access adequate high-speed Internet services. "Achieving this goal requires a multi-faceted approach, including developing the necessary infrastructure to bring service to each home and business in our state, assisting those who otherwise could not afford service, and ensuring that resources to increase digital literacy are available to all," states the directive. "A dedicated office within state government will help ensure these efforts are as coordinated, focused, and effective as possible." The new office will be part of Michigan's Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity.
- In a letter to the FCC, CenturyLink (now Lumen Technologies) somewhat vaguely reassured the agency that it is now on track to meet its Connect America Fund (CAF) obligations. This update comes after the company reported to the FCC in January that it fell behind on its 2020 CAF II deployments in some of the 33 states where it received funding. Since then, it confirms it has made progress, with 15 of the 33 states now "over 100% deployed," and five others over 95% deployed. "Looking forward, CenturyLink has maintained a consistent and rapid pace of deployment, overcoming challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic. As mentioned last year, in some places, our CAF II deployment has switched to fixed wireless technology instead of digital subscriber line technology, which will provide a better customer experience in those places," said the company in its filing. "At the current pace of deployment, CenturyLink will achieve full deployment in all states well within the time period specified..." CenturyLink began accepting $500 million annually from the FCC's Connect America Fund back in 2015 and it has missed CAF buildout goals twice before.
- The German government is finalizing plans to help subsidize the costs of hardware for wireless and satellite Internet services like Starlink, according to reporting from Reuters. The goal is to help those in rural areas of the country connect to the Internet, and if finalized the subsidy will be open to "all providers who offer wireless internet connections in rural areas." The subsidies for households will reportedly be worth €500, and the German business newspaper Handelsblatt reports that the scheme was conceived following a meeting in May between Germany's Transport Minister Andreas Scheuer and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk.
— Nicole Ferraro, contributing editor and host of "The Divide" and "What's the Story?" Light Reading