Broadband infrastructure projects are expected to greatly accelerate this year as a result of the most recent coronavirus legislation.
While providing hundreds of millions of stimulus checks to individuals, the new Covid-19 relief bill, otherwise known as the Consolidated Appropriations Act, is also providing some $7 billion for broadband expansion projects.
Those projects must be geared to either provide or expand broadband access for low-income households, with just over $3.2 billion available for efforts already approved by the Federal Communications Commission.
In a statement, Ajit Pai, chairman of the FCC, said the legislation essentially leverages “private efforts to ensure low-income American families and veterans are connected, and will facilitate remote learning, funding connected drives for low-income American students.”
The massive $900 billion bill, designed to provide immediate help for those economically impacted by the pandemic, is also providing $1.9 billion to remove and replace existing network equipment regarded as unsecure or a security risk.
Another $1.3 billion is going for grants to be used for tribal government broadband deployment through the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, which is a part of the Commerce Department.
The NTIA is now seeing the creation of what is being called the Broadband Infrastructure Program which will award grants to public-private partnerships devoted to deploying broadband service to counties, towns or cities with fewer than 50,000 residents.
Focusing on accelerating broadband construction in lower income areas of the country, the new legislation is also making available $285 million that will target neighborhoods surrounding any Historically Black College or University, otherwise known as an HBCU.
In so doing, the legislation sets up an Office of Minority Broadband Initiatives facilitating grants that will go to the HBCUs for broadband development.
A smaller $65 million is going for the long-planned implementation of the new Broadband DATA Act, which requires the FCC to create more accurate and up to date broadband data maps that will better pinpoint areas of the country still lacking broadband infrastructure.
In a statement, Jessica Rosenworcel, a member of the FCC, described the broadband funding legislation as “only a start, but it’s important because it is the beginning of what needs to be a national effort to connect 100% of us to broadband.”
By Garry Boulard
Get stories like these right to your inbox.