Benton Institute for Broadband & Society
Typically, the Department of Treasury is outside the scope of broadband policy. But in March, President Joe Biden signed the American Rescue Plan Act, directing Treasury to disperse many, many billions of dollars to help State, local, and Tribal governments respond to the pandemic. And these billions may be used to expand access to broadband.
This week, the Federal Communications Commission adopted rules for the Emergency Connectivity Fund Program, providing $7.171 billion for schools and libraries for the purchase of connected devices and broadband connections for use by students, school staff, and library patrons at locations other than a school or library.
In the coming days, we will see major progress on a $10+ billion federal investment in digital inclusion. This moment is unprecedented. We've never seen such a large commitment to making broadband service affordable for all. And, as Congress starts to focus on long-term solutions for universal broadband, we're seeing the potential for more digital inclusion investment in the coming months.
Despite clear evidence to the contrary, lobbyists have long claimed that U.S. broadband is extremely competitive and incredibly affordable.
This week, President Joe Biden addressed a joint session of Congress to offer an update on his first 100 days in office and to pitch his proposals for unprecedented public investment in America. A key element of President Biden's plan is a $100 billion investment to ensure everyone in the U.S. has access to affordable broadband internet access service, including $80 billion specifically for broadband infrastructure.
It would not be a stretch to say that the Federal Communications Commission’s Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) reverse auction has left a bad taste in a lot of mouths. While the FCC was quick to announce success immediately after the close of the auction simply because most eligible areas were assigned, many policy makers and communities see the results as highly problematic and have roundly criticized the outcome, leaving us to ask: Is the FCC’s reverse auction fatally wounded or just bloodied?
A number of readers have reached out to us at Benton asking for help figuring out where to find all the pools of broadband support appropriated by Congress over the past year. So we've decided to create this placeholder for all the funding we've seen in the CARES Act, the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021, and the American Rescue Plan.
With a proposal to spend $100 billion to ensure that all Americans have affordable and reliable internet service, the Biden Administration has made closing the digital divide a huge priority. Much remains to be done to fill in the specifics of what this means, but two types of policy tools come to mind when thinking about how to address the digital divide. Top of mind is promoting competition. Fostering competition means investing in new infrastructure, thereby giving consumers more choice for very high-speed service.
What constitutes a lifeline in 2021? Is it a phone? A smartphone? A fixed-location broadband connection? Or some combination of all these services?
Policymakers and other stakeholders are becoming more aware of the hazards of assuming everyone has online access. Many are interested in understanding the places where online access may be lower than the norm and the population groups that may have limited or no access to the internet. Recent work I have done sheds light on some of these issues.