By David Shepardson
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo on Tuesday detailed plans to spend $65 billion to expand broadband access and affordability, a significant part of the Biden administration’s new infrastructure bill.
The bill’s authors say 19 million Americans lack access to high-speed internet. Raimondo said the administration’s goal is for “every single American” to have access to high-speed affordable broadband, “which means truly affordable.”
The bill includes $42.45 billion in grants for expanding physical access to broadband, including building fiber or other networks.
The bill automatically awards $100 million to each state that can be used for technical assistance, to build out a state broadband office or other efforts, for a total of $5 billion.
The rest of the $42 billion will be allocated by Raimondo’s agency to states using a formula-based grant program, and all recipients of funding must offer a low-cost plan.
“Show us a plan that guarantees every single person in your state has access to high-speed affordable internet,” Raimondo said. Projects must meet a minimum speed requirement of 100/20 megabits per second.
She said it will take some months to get money to states and that it will come only after states submit plans that are approved by the department.
All recipients must offer a low-cost plan and states must address all of their unserved areas before they are able to fund deployment projects in underserved areas. “We have to make sure we don’t spend this money overbuilding,” Raimondo said.
She stressed that Americans would not see this spending right away in their communities. “We want to get this right. It’s more important to get this right than to rush…. Not everybody’s going to have broadband a year from now.”
Biden initially proposed $100 billion for broadband and the White House conceded in May https://www.reuters.com/technology/white-house-would-back-smaller-broadband-internet-boost-2021-05-21/#:~:text=President%20Joe%20Biden%20in%20April%20called%20for%20%24100,said%20Friday%20in%20a%20memo%20to%20Senate%20Republicans that with $65 billion, it would take longer to extend access to all Americans.
AT&T CEO John Stankey said the government funds will pave the way “for universal connectivity to unserved areas, making broadband affordable for low-income households, and providing more resources for digital equity and adoption.”
Comcast said the funding appropriately focuses “on getting broadband infrastructure first to areas where it does not currently exist, while at the same time continuing to promote faster speeds and disincentivizing duplicative projects.”
MORE AFFORDABLE BROADBAND
The new infrastructure bill also includes $14.2 billion for the Federal Communications Commission to provide a new permanent $30 per month voucher for low-income families to use toward any internet service plan of their choosing.
It expands on a $3.2 billion temporary COVID-19 pandemic program called the Emergency Broadband Benefit that is currently used by nearly 7.4 million U.S. households and provides a $50-a- month subsidy. The new program expands eligibility to more low-income households.
Minority and low-income households are less likely to have home internet, a Pew Research survey this year found. Fewer than 60% of adults with annual household income under $30,000 have home internet, according to the survey.
As the government spends the billions funded in the bill, Raimondo vowed it would be transparent. “Every single state plan is going to have to be put online, so you can comb through every detail of every plan,” she said.
(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Heather Timmons and Dan Grebler)
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