August 13, 2020 by Tom Cohen

Delivering Broadband in a Pandemic: Answers to All Your Regulatory Questions


All the Congressional Issues that Might Impact How You Keep Subscribers Connected

Today, your subscribers need broadband service more than ever. When operating in the midst of the pandemic, however, several regulatory issues and questions have crossed my desk. Here’s my expert perspective to help you make informed decisions.  

Will broadband providers be expected to comply with the FCC’s Keep Americans Connected Pledge to not disconnect customers during the COVID-19 emergency, even though the Pledge expired on June 30?

The Pledge was never an FCC mandate but more of an aspiration. And, many hundreds of broadband providers willingly signed on to do their part during these challenging times. Even without the Pledge, I expect most broadband providers will work with their customers to help them stay connected. Already, many providers have announced “stay connected” policies similar to the Pledge, believing it is the right thing to do and good business. So, whether you continue to abide by the Pledge is up to you, but keep in mind that the public and press may be watching what you do.

Will Congress enact new stimulus legislation providing for additional funding for individuals so they can pay their bills?

Right now, it is not clear that the Administration and Congress can reach a compromise on additional stimulus funding, particularly for low-income individuals and people who are not working because of the emergency. If there is no additional funding, it is likely to affect the ability of many people to pay their bills for broadband service. 

Will new stimulus legislation include support for low-income consumers and students to connect to broadband service?

Even if the Administration and Congress can reach a compromise on overall stimulus funding, it is doubtful they will set aside money specifically to pay for broadband service, including by enhancing the FCC's Lifeline and E-rate programs. 

Will new stimulus legislation include “block grant” funding for states, which the states could use for broadband-related projects?

The previous stimulus legislation included various provisions giving tens of billions of dollars of funding directly to states, which they could use for different purposes—including for broadband-related projects. There are discussions about extending the deadline for using this money.  In addition, the House of Representatives would like to increase these amounts, but the Administration is resisting.  

Will Congress provide additional funding for the RUS ReConnect program?

Almost certainly. Congress and rural broadband stakeholders believe the ReConnect program has been successful in closing the digital divide. Congress should provide as much as $1 billion in additional funding for the next year.

Will Congress fund a major new broadband infrastructure program?

Because there is not yet a consensus on all the elements of a new broadband program, the odds are against Congress establishing one this year. But the House keeps trying. Aside from the House Infrastructure legislation, a new House appropriations bill allocates an additional $60B for the FCC to spend on deploying broadband in unserved and underserved areas. Whether the Senate will go along with this new funding is open to question.


Want to read more on funding?

Check out the Regulatory Updates perspectives page, where we share all the latest regulatory news that impacts service providers.