The coronavirus aid package that Congress pass this week provides $7 billion to help Americans connect to the internet and pay their bills. The benefits will ensure that unemployed families stay connected as the pandemic has forced many to work, learn, and communicate from home.
Consumer advocates, Telecom companies, and policymakers applauded the investment. Senator Maria Cantwell of Washington said the bill would offer “a little bit of help.” Cantwell believes Congress should raise the spending in future coronavirus relief packages.
“We just have to fight in January to get that rectified,” Cantwell said.
The digital divide exposes a problem among lower-income families and people of color. Many do not have access to the internet. It is hard for children without an internet connection and people that need to work from home. A $3 billion program will allow low-income households to get rebates of up to $50 a month to cover broadband. According to Matt Wood, vice president for policy at the advocacy group Free Press, at least 33 million households are eligible for the benefit.
“The biggest part of the digital divide is people who cannot afford services they already have available to them,” Wood said to the Washington Post.
Companies that participate in providing households with service will be reimbursed. Lawmakers have also agreed to pay carriers up to $100 if they provide a device or laptop to their customers.
“The FCC will act quickly to implement the bill’s important provisions once it is adopted and signed into law,” Ajit Pai, the agency’s outgoing chairman said.
The stimulus relief package is providing $250 million for the FCC to expand telehealth.
“I think it demonstrates Washington woke up in the pandemic to the reality that broadband is no longer nice to have, it’s need to have,” Jessica Rosenworcel, a commissioner at FCC said. “Households without it don’t have a fair shot at maintaining some semblance of modern life, when so much of modern life has migrated online.”
“This is the beginning of what needs to be a nationwide effort to connect 100 percent of the U.S. to broadband,” Rosenworcel said.
“This is a down payment.”