Broadband Funding Targeted in COVID-19 Relief Plan

The $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARPA) passed the House of Representatives and was signed by President Biden March 11. The Act included provisions related to broadband including establishing a fund to provide payment assistance for qualified expenses for broadband internet service and for investments in broadband infrastructure 

ARPA sets aside $7.171 billion in the Emergency Connectivity Fund designated for a remote learning program that the Federal Communications Commission will oversee. The funding will remain available through September 2030. Under the provision, schools and libraries will have the ability through the E-Rate program to purchase equipment including hot spots, modems, routers and connected devices, as well as advanced communications and information services, to be used during the COVID-19 emergency period by students, staff and library patrons. The FCC is directed to reimburse all costs that it deems reasonable related to the purchase of eligible equipment or services, and funding is to be available within 60 days of the bill’s enactment.  

The Act also sets aside $10 billion for Coronavirus-related capital projects including broadband related to enabling work, education and health monitoring, including $100 million for each state and several territories and the Tribal government of the State of Hawaii. Remaining funding will be paid to states based on population. 

A $219.8 billion provision of ARPA establishes a Coronavirus State Fiscal Recovery Fund that includes funding for investments in water, sewer, or broadband infrastructure. The Secretary of the Treasury will make payments to states, territories, and Tribal governments for such projects. Within the provision, $195.3 billion is reserved for the 50 states and the District of Columbia; $20 billion for Tribal governments; $4.5 billion for territories; and $50 million for administrative costs. 

A further $130.2 billion is allocated for cities, non-entitlement units of local governments and counties to invest in projects related to COVID-19 response, including broadband infrastructure. Within the allocation, $65.1 billion is reserved four counties; $45.57 billion for metropolitan cities; and $19.53 billion for states to distribute to non-entitlement units. 

The Act addresses funding to help stabilize education under the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER) and the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF). Both fall within the jurisdiction of the Department of Education. ESSER has an allocation of $123 billion for a variety of uses, including purchasing connectivity for educational purposes. The HEERF provision includes a $39.5 billion allocation that includes reimbursement for expenses related to technology needed to transition to distance learning.  

The Act also provides $500 million for a rural healthcare pilot program to be administered by the US Department of Agriculture to support telehealth infrastructure.