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Broadband's Impact

Reactions to Broadband Provisions Being Included in the COVID-19 Relief Bill



Photo of Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Calif., from January 2017 by Brian Washburn used with permission

December 22, 2020 – Late Monday night, Congress approved a $900 billion coronavirus relief package sending desperately needed aid to Americans reeling from the global pandemic.

The bill, which sets aside $7 billion for broadband initiatives and includes legislation introduced by Reps. Anna Eshoo, D-California, Marc Veasey, D-Texas, and Paul Tonko, D-New York, and many more, has been applauded by many as a broadband and connectivity win, and a crucial step towards equity.

The bill provides $3.2 billion in broadband subsidies to establish the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program at the FCC, to assist low-income Americans and those affected by the pandemic.

Under the program, eligible households may receive a discount of up to $50, or up to $75 on Tribal lands, off the cost of internet service and a subsidy of up to $100 for low-cost devices, such as computers and tablets.

The package establishes two grant programs at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration. The first, funded at $1 billion, is directed to tribal governments to be used not only for broadband deployment on tribal lands, but also telehealth, distance learning, broadband affordability, and digital inclusion. The second is a $300 million broadband deployment program to support rural broadband infrastructure deployment.

It further establishes an Office of Minority Broadband Initiatives at the NTIA to focus on broadband access and adoption at historically Black colleges and universities, Tribal colleges and universities, and other Minority-serving institutions. It also appropriates $285 million for a Pilot Program to award grants to these institutions, including to help students of these institutions afford broadband service.

In a statement, Senator Amy Klobuchar, D-Minnesota, along with Representatives Doris Matsui, D-California, G.K. Butterfield, D-North Carolina, Marcia Fudge, D-Ohio, and many more, applauded the inclusion of $285 million in federal relief funding for historically Black colleges and universities, Tribal colleges and universities, and other minority-serving institutions.

“I am proud to join Representative Eshoo in leading this legislation to ensure that schools and students have the technological resources necessary to address these obstacles both during the COVID-19 health crisis and beyond it,” said Butterfield. “The virus’s outbreak has particularly severe implications for HBCU’s and other minority serving institutions, which were already facing the unique challenges that come with delivering high quality education to the nation’s most underrepresented communities.”

Countless others have spoken out in support of the broadband provisions included in the package, such as House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone, D-New Jersey, and House Communications and Technology Subcommittee Chairman Mike Doyle, D-Pennsylvania.

In a joint statement, the pair said they have long recognized how important it was for Congress to prioritize greater broadband access, resiliency, and adoption, and that they are pleased legislators have achieved exactly that with this omnibus. “We must continue to ensure our communication networks are within reach for all Americans,” they wrote.

Broadband industry representatives have also largely supported the legislation’s measures to improve the affordability of broadband internet service. The bill has received cheers from the Wireless Internet Service Providers Association, the Internet and Television Association, Free Press Action, Public Knowledge, INCOMPAS, and more.

“Passing this legislation marks a major victory in efforts to bridge the digital divide, with a flexible and robust benefit structured along the lines of what Free Press Action has called for since March and the beginning of the COVID-19 shutdowns,” said Matt Wood, vice president of policy and general counsel at Free Press Action.  “It shows how Congress has shifted its attention to the affordability crisis, which predates the pandemic but has become even more dire over the past 10 months.”

“This focus on affordability is thanks to the leadership of Speaker Pelosi, Representative Clyburn, Chairman Pallone, Representative Veasey and other House Democrats who sponsored and passed affordability measures like this one earlier this year, as well as Minority Leader Schumer, Chairwoman Cantwell and Senator Wyden, who sponsored companion measures and led Senate negotiations,” said Wood.

Contributing Reporter Jericho Casper graduated from the University of Virginia studying media policy. She grew up in Newport News in an area heavily impacted by the digital divide and has a passion for universal access and a vendetta against anyone who stands in the way of her getting better broadband.

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Broadband's Impact

House Bill to Make Broadband Grants Non-Taxable Introduced

Sen. Mark Warner said last month he is working to pass a companion bill by year’s end.



Photo of Rep. Mike Kelly, R-Penn.

WASHINGTON, December 7, 2022 – Reps. Mike Kelly, R-Penn., and Jimmy Panetta, D-Ca., on Wednesday introduced the Broadband Grant Tax Treatment Act, the companion of a Senate bill of the same name, which would make non-taxable broadband funding from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and the American Rescue Plan Act.

The bill’s supporters say it will increase the impact of Washington’s broadband-funding initiatives, the largest of which is the IIJA’s $42.45 billion Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment program. The IIJA allocated a total of $65 billion toward broadband-related projects.

Kelly said the proposal “ensures federal grant dollars, especially those made available to local governments through pandemic relief funding, will give constituents the best return on their investment.”

“This legislation allows for existing grant funding to be spent as effectively as possible,” Kelly added.

Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., sponsored Senate’s version of the bill in September and said last month he is working to push it through by year’s end.

“Representative Panetta’s and Kelly’s bill to eliminate the counter-productive tax on broadband grants is right on the money,” said Jonathan Spalter, president and CEO of trade group US Telecom. “Closing the digital divide in America – especially in our hardest-to-reach rural communities – will require every cent of the $65 billion Congress has dedicated for that critical purpose.”

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Digital Inclusion

Broadband is Affordable for Middle Class, NCTA Claims

According to analysis, the middle class spends on average $69 per month on internet service.



Photo of Rick Cimerman, vice president of external and state affairs at NCTA

WASHINGTON, November 22, 2022 – Even as policymakers push initiatives to make broadband less expensive, primarily for low-income Americans, broadband is already generally affordable for the middle class, argued Rick Cimerman, vice president of external and state affairs at industry group NCTA, the internet and television association. 

Availability of broadband is not enough, many politicians and experts argue, if other barriers – e.g., price – prevent widespread adoption. Much focus has been directed toward boosting adoption among low-income Americans through subsidies like the Affordable Connectivity Program, but legally, middle-class adoption must also be considered. In its notice of funding opportunity for the $42.5-billion Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment program, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration required each state to submit a “middle-class affordability plan.”

During a webinar held earlier this month, Cimerman, who works for an organization that represents cable operators, defined the middle class as those who earn $45,300–$76,200, basing these boundaries on U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics for 2020. And based on the text of an Federal Communications Commission action from 2016, he set the threshold of affordability for broadband service at two percent of monthly household income.

According to his analysis, the middle class, thus defined, spends on average $69 per month on internet service. $69 is about 1.8 percent of monthly income for those at the bottom of Cimerman’s middle class and about 1.1 percent of monthly income for those at the top. Both figures fall within the 2-percent standard, and Cimerman stated that lower earners tended to spend slightly less on internet than the $69-per-month average.

Citing US Telecom’s analysis of the FCC’s Urban Rate Survey, Cimerman presented data that show internet prices dropped substantially from 2015 to 2021 – decreasing about 23 percent, 26 percent, and 39 percent for “entry-level,” “most popular” and “highest-speed” residential plans, respectively. And despite recent price hikes on products such as gas, food, and vehicles, Cimerman said, broadband prices had shrunk 0.1 percent year-over-year as of September 2022.

Widespread adoption is important from a financial as well as an equity perspective, experts say. Speaking at the AnchorNets 2022 conference, Matt Kalmus, managing director and partner at Boston Consulting Group, argued that providers rely on high subscription rates to generate badly needed network revenues.

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Broadband's Impact

Federal Communications Commission Mandates Broadband ‘Nutrition’ Labels

The FCC also mandated that internet service provider labels be machine-readable.



Federal Communications Commission Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel

WASHINGTON, November 18, 2022 – The Federal Communications Commission on Thursday afternoon ordered internet providers to display broadband “nutrition” labels at points of sale that include internet plans’ performance metrics, monthly rates, and other information that may inform consumers’ purchasing decisions.

The agency released the requirement less than 24 hours before it released the first draft of its updated broadband map.

The FCC mandated that labels be machine-readable, which is designed to facilitate third-party data-gathering and analysis. The commission also requires that the labels to be made available in customers’ online portals with the provide the and “accessible” to non-English speakers.

In addition to the broadband speeds promised by the providers, the new labels must also display typical latency, time-of-purchase fees, discount information, data limits, and provider-contact information.

“Broadband is an essential service, for everyone, everywhere. Because of this, consumers need to know what they are paying for, and how it compares with other service offerings,”  FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said in a statement. 

“For over 25 years, consumers have enjoyed the convenience of nutrition labels on food products.  We’re now requiring internet service providers to display broadband labels for both wireless and wired services.  Consumers deserve to get accurate information about price, speed, data allowances, and other terms of service up front.”

Industry players robustly debated the proper parameters for broadband labels in a flurry of filings with the FCC. Free Press, an advocacy group, argued for machine-readable labels and accommodations for non-English speakers, measures which were largely opposed by trade groups. Free Press also advocated a requirement that labels to be included on monthly internet bills, without which the FCC “risks merely replicating the status quo wherein consumers must navigate fine print, poorly designed websites, and byzantine hyperlinks,” group wrote.

“The failure to require the label’s display on a customer’s monthly bill is a disappointing concession to monopolist ISPs like AT&T and Comcast and a big loss for consumers,” Joshua Stager, policy director of Free Press, said Friday.

The Wireless Internet Service Providers Association clashed with Free Press in its FCC filing and supported the point-of-sale requirement.

“WISPA welcomes today’s release of the FCC’s new broadband label,” said Vice President of Policy Louis Peraertz. “It will help consumers better understand their internet access purchases, enabling them to quickly see ‘under the hood,’ and allow for an effective apples-to-apples comparison tool when shopping for services in the marketplace.”

Image of the FCC’s sample broadband nutrition label

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