Coronavirus and Connectivity
As part of a $3.9 billion allocation of COVID-19 relief funding from the latest federal law, the American Rescue Plan, Maryland is committing $300 million toward broadband and digital equity initiatives. The package is part of an agreement reached between Gov. Larry Hogan (R-MD) and the Democratic legislative leaders of the Maryland General Assembly.
The problem of the digital divide isn’t fixed until we address affordability. The digital divide is not a valley you can cross with fiber. The divide isolates low-income families that don’t have economic access to reliable and convenient service. It disadvantages their children in public education and requires that they incur the cost to travel for low-paying work.
A year after the pandemic turned the nation’s digital divide into an education emergency, President Joe Biden, inheriting the problem, is making affordable broadband a top priority, comparing it to the effort to spread electricity across the country. His $2 trillion infrastructure plan includes $100 billion to extend fast internet access to every home. The money is meant to improve the economy by enabling all Americans to work, get medical care and take classes from wherever they live.
The Federal Communications Commission published an initial list of broadband providers that have elected to participate in the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program. Thus far approximately 319 providers plan on participating. There will be a provider in each of the 50 states, the District of Columbia, and half of US territories. The list will be updated as more providers join the program. Learn more about the Emergency Broadband Benefit, including eligibility details, by visiting: fcc.gov/broadbandbenefit
Wireless carriers TruConnect, American Broadband & Telecommunications, Standup Wireless, and SafetyNet Wireless have asked the Federal Communications Commission to reconsider its Emergency Broadband Benefit Program rules. The carriers say the rules unintentionally allow eligible consumers in the program to obtain multiple connected devices, even though the FCC only authorizes one connected device per eligible household.
The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) will distribute more than $2 billion in new broadband grant funding through three new programs created by the 2021 Consolidated Appropriations Act. If your community or institution will be eligible to apply for one or more of these programs, don’t wait for NTIA to issue rules later in spring 2021. Start preparing the broad outlines of your proposed projects now—so you’re ready to submit a competitive application when the window opens this summer.
The Federal Communications Commission adopted a Report and Order and Order on Reconsideration to establish Round 2 of the COVID-19 Telehealth Program, a $249.95 million federal initiative that builds on the $200 million program established as part of the CARES Act. The FCC’s COVID-19 Telehealth Program supports the efforts of health care providers to continue serving their patients by providing telecommunications services, information services, and connected devices necessary to enable telehealth during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Acting Federal Communications Commission Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel offered measured confidence about expanding broadband connectivity in schools following the pandemic. Addressing a virtual roundtable meeting of local officials from around Maryland, Chairwoman Rosenworcel promoted a trio of programs funded by Congress and the FCC aimed at improving connectivity for disadvantaged schools and communities.
To cope with Covid-19 restrictions, senior-living condo and apartment operators expanded digital services for residents over the past year, from video-chat apps to virtual assistants, live-stream fitness classes and virtual-reality day trips. Now, as the pace of coronavirus vaccinations picks up, technology leaders at many of these facilities are hoping to broaden the use of software tools that helped stave off social isolation amid lockdowns, social-distancing and quarantines—without discouraging real-world interaction.
A spending plan from the Federal Communications Commission in accordance with section 15011(b)(1)(B) of the Coronavirus Aid Relief and Economic Security Act (CARES Act), Pub. L. No 116-136, as amended by Title VIII of Division O of the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021, Pub. L. No. 116-260. The requirement in section 15011 of the CARES Act states that each agency shall submit to the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee a plan describing how the agency will use its covered funds.