With great drama, the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021 became law on December 27, 2021. The $2.3 trillion COVID relief and government spending bill extended unemployment benefits and ensured the government can keep running. The $900 billion COVID relief provision includes over $7 billion to help improve connectivity in the U.S.
At the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, the Federal Communications Commission pushed internet service providers to promise they wouldn't penalize customers who struggled to pay their internet bills when they needed connectivity the most. More than 800 companies signed onto the Keep Americans Connected pledge, a commitment to not disconnect customers who were behind on their bills or charge late-payment fees that drew effusive praise from FCC Chairman Ajit Pai.
In October 2019, the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society issued Broadband for America’s Future: A Vision for the 2020s. The agenda was comprehensive, constructed upon achievements in communities and insights from experts across the nation. The report outlined the key building blocks of broadband policy—deployment, competition, community anchor institutions, and digital equity (including affordability and adoption).
Thirty percent of all Americans live in multi-tenant environments (“MTEs”) like apartment buildings. Their annual income tends to be only about 54% of median homeowner income, so they are at greater risk of not being able to afford broadband. When apartment owners can profit by restricting tenants’ broadband options and reducing competition, it adds to our nation’s broadband affordability challenges.
The 10th Anniversary of the National Broadband Plan offers a chance to reflect on the progress made in the past 10 years and lessons for the future. My focus will be on the progress in addressing the digital divide – increasing the number of Americans with broadband at home. The National Broadband Plan’s guiding principles for broadband adoption still resonate:
It's budget season. Federal departments and agencies are making their funding requests to Congress for fiscal year 2021 (starting October 1, 2020 and ending September 30, 2021). And part of the ask is reporting how well an agency did achieving its FY 2019 goals. One of the primary goals of the Federal Communications Commission is to close the digital divide in rural America.
The House Commerce Committee's Subcommittee on Communications and Technology held a hearing entitled Empowering and Connecting Communities Through Digital Equity and Internet Adoption.
Current research suggests that low-income people can only afford to pay about $10 monthly for broadband. Anything more competes with other utility bills and the cost of food. Meeting the goal of universal connectivity and providing fixed broadband at about $10 per month requires a multi-pronged strategy - what my Benton colleague Jonathan Sallet calls an “Affordability Agenda.” It includes:
In Washington, DC, today, policymakers, public interest advocates and nonprofits, researchers, and the business community are gathering for the 2020 State of the Net Conference. Hosted by the Internet Education Foundation, State of the Net explores important, emerging trends and their impact on internet policy.