House bill would pour $94B into broadband expansion

There have been several government initiatives aimed at helping overcome the digital divide and bring affordable broadband access to more parts of the country. (Image by Jan Alexander from Pixabay)

A group of House Democrats introduced a bill entitled, Leading Infrastructure for Tomorrow’s America Act (LIFT America Act), that would provide almost $94 billion to expand broadband access to underserved communities across the U.S.

This is an expansion of the bill’s previous version that was introduced in May 2019, which called for $40 billion to be dedicated to broadband deployment and $5 billion for infrastructure.

This latest bill, however, allocates $80 billion for high-speed broadband nationwide by funding connections to unserved and underserved areas in rural, suburban and urban areas. It would also dedicate $5 billion to a new low-interest financing program for broadband infrastructure and $9.3 billion for programs that help make broadband affordable.

The more-than-double the funding for broadband that is included in this latest version of the LIFT Act is particularly timely considering the country has just marked the one-year anniversary of remote work and remote schooling due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The legislation calls for the FCC to distribute $60 billion of the funds through a competitive bidding process. The rest of the funds then would be allocated to states to use for further broadband deployment.  It also prohibits state governments from enforcing laws that prevent local governments, cooperative and public-private partnerships from delivering their own broadband services, such as municipal Wi-Fi. 

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There have been several government initiatives aimed at helping overcome the digital divide and bring affordable broadband access to more parts of the country. Last December, the Consolidated Appropriations Act became law and as part of that Congress provided $3.2 billion for the Emergency Broadband Benefit program. This means that broadband providers that participate in the program will be able to get discounts of up to $50 per month for internet services and up to $75 a month on tribal lands.

In addition, the FCC recently completed its Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (FDOF) reverse auction which awarded $9.2 billion in funds to a variety of companies including telecom service providers, cable operators, electric cooperatives, fixed wireless providers and satellite companies with the intent that the funds would be used to expand broadband to rural areas.