The CARES (stimulus) law enacted four weeks ago to address the COVID-19 emergency provided a limited amount of new broadband support, largely for the FCC’s Telehealth program and the Department of Education remote learning program. (I understand the FCC is already rushing to get this Telehealth funding out the door.) Left on the cutting room floor were provisions authorizing additional funding for the FCC’s E-rate and Lifeline programs, as well as a directive that broadband providers do not disconnect anyone for non-payment and connect low-income students without any reimbursement. Knowing the emergency is going to last for some time, Congress is already working on the next versions of stimulus legislation.
The next stimulus legislation will address pressing needs and “refill the buckets,” that is, it is likely to continue to provide funding for hospitals and healthcare providers and direct cash payments to individuals and loans to help small and mid-sized businesses meet payrolls and other expenses. After that, because the situation is so unprecedented and so much is unknown, it is uncertain what provisions will be included in future stimulus legislation. Will we need another “fill the buckets” bill because the virus is still spreading and so many are jobless? Will it be more expansive, including for instance, additional funding for the E-rate and Lifeline programs? Will it include provisions that reimburse broadband providers for connecting low-income students and not disconnecting non-payers?
What appears more certain is that funding for major new infrastructure programs will not be considered until later this year. And, again, because the situation is so unprecedented and harm to the economy is going to be so great, all bets are off both as to what will be included in an infrastructure bill and, unfortunately, as to whether the Senate and House can agree and pass a bill. While broadband should be included, the details and amount of additional funding are still open. So, stay tuned, and I will provide further updates as we know more.
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