A Win for Wireless: Looking Back on Congressional Appropriations to Broadband

5G, Wireless 101

Access to broadband has never been more in focus than it has in the last year of the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s been a year since a National Emergency was declared in the U.S., and in that time, wireless carriers, Congress, NTIA, and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) have worked together to increase access to broadband.

Congressional appropriation of funds to expand access is proving crucial to removing barriers to broadband deployment and adoption. In December, Congress passed the Consolidated Appropriations Act (CAA), which appropriated approximately $5 billion to this effort. Here are some reasons that matters:

  • Lower cost for internet access to qualifying households. Congress allocated $3.2 billion dollars under the Emergency Broadband Benefit program, subsidies of up to $50 of a qualifying household’s monthly internet bill, or up to $75 of monthly internet service on tribal lands. The program can additionally cover $100 toward equipment, such as laptops and tablets, if a household purchases the equipment through their internet provider. Your carrier will notify you of eligibility and offer this discount directly to you.
  • Increased access to telehealth. Congress allocated $250 million in funding to help health care providers deliver connected care services to patients in their homes or mobile location. This was on top of an original allocation of $200 million as a part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. This is a critical step in increasing access to medical care through wireless connectivity, with many providers purchasing smartphones, mobile hotspots, and remote monitoring devices to increase access to care.
  • Expansion of broadband for Tribal communities: Congress allocated $1 billion in funding to expand access to and adoption of broadband services on Tribal land, which includes promoting access to remote learning, telework, or telehealth resources.
  • Benefits to minority communities. Congress allocated $285 million to digital opportunities and access in anchor communities, increasing coordination with minority-serving institutions, and identifying barriers to access. This will expand mobile and broadband internet access, as well as facilitate an information technology-training program through remote instruction.

More For Students

In addition to the CAA, Congress also passed the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARPA), which, among other things, includes an additional $7.1 billion Emergency Connectivity Fund for schools and libraries. This means access to additional hotspots and connected devices for use by students and staff, a fundamental building block in wireless access that is crucial education during these unusual times.

Working Together

The partnership between carriers, device manufacturers, and government has been crucial to bridging the gap. Not to mention the ongoing efforts to roll out new 5G infrastructure across the nation. This has been a challenging year for countless reasons, but also a year of opportunity for increased access to broadband and broadband expansion.

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