BBWN Bites: 300-plus providers to participate in Emergency Broadband Benefit Program
Also in this roundup: Trussville, Alabama, gets gigabit; Maryland commits $300 million to broadband; Texas senate bill would create broadband department; industry groups respond to Biden's $100 billion fund for broadband.
- The FCC announced yesterday that so far 319 providers have signed up to participate in its Emergency Broadband Benefit program. The program, enacted by the FCC in February, will provide eligible households with discounts of up to $50 a month for broadband (up to $75 a month for households on Tribal lands). It also will provide a one-time discount of up to $100 on a computer or tablet for those eligible. The FCC confirmed that the list of providers covers every state, as well as Washington, DC, and half of US territories. "This $3.2 billion program was designed to lower the cost of high-speed internet service for those struggling to afford broadband connectivity during the ongoing pandemic and I'm proud of the progress we've made in onboarding more than 300 providers into the program. There are more to come. Every day we are approving additional interested providers, developing the program systems to make it available for consumer sign-up, and working hard to ensure that eligible households most at risk of digital disconnection can soon take advantage of this benefit," said Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel in a statement. A full list of participating providers broken out by state can be found here.
- The city of Trussville, Alabama, has become the second in that state – following Jasper – to gain access to gigabit broadband services from C-Spire. The broadband build is part of C-Spire's $1 billion investment to speed fiber deployment and network upgrades in Alabama, announced in January, with $500 million to be spent over the next five years. Construction is slated to continue throughout 2021 in communities, including Pelham, Helena, Northport, Tuscaloosa and parts of Mobile County. According to BroadbandNow, Alabama is ranked 38th in the US for broadband, with 475,000 people in the state lacking access to a minimum standard of 25 Mbit/s.
- A bipartisan group of lawmakers in Maryland have come to an agreement to use $300 million of incoming federal aid to expand broadband across the state. That chunk of funding is part of the approximately $3.9 billion that Maryland will receive from the American Rescue Plan. According to a press release from Governor Larry Hogan's office, the $300 million for broadband will include $128 million to improve network infrastructure; $75 million for service fee and device subsidies; and $45 million for municipal broadband grants.
- With a unanimous vote, the Texas State Senate has passed a bill that would create a special broadband department within the University of Texas system. According to the Huntsville Item, the department would be responsible for creating new maps to highlight where fewer than 80% of people have broadband, offering grants and loans to incentivize network expansion and devise a statewide broadband plan. The bill now heads to the Texas House for a vote. While Texas ranks 8th in the US for broadband according to stats from BroadbandNow, there are still millions of people who lack access in the state: "When it comes to broadband availability, 91% of Texas residents have access to a 25 Mbps wired internet connection," says BroadbandNow. "While this is a huge percentage, 2.1 million people still don’t have access to a wired connection capable of the same speed. On top of that, there are 2.7 million people that have access to only one wired provider, and still another 1.2 million people without access to a wired connection at all, the majority of which being in rural areas."
- With President Biden's announcement of the inclusion of $100 billion for broadband in the $2 trillion American Jobs Plan, industry groups and broadband stakeholders are working to pursue their priorities as Congress begins negotiations. In a statement, WISPA cheered the news, saying the "President's focus is right on target," while also pushing its path to gigabit strategy which it outlined in detail last week. The Fiber Broadband Association issued a statement saying it "applauds the Biden Administration’s American Jobs Plan to include $100B in broadband infrastructure funding to connect every American to high-speed broadband over the next 8 years." In a message to members in advance of Biden's announcement this week, the organization's CEO Gary Bolton confirmed they have "doubled down" on Hill advocacy, and are fighting for the $94 billion Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act that was introduced by Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-SC) and Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) in the House and Senate. "This bill includes $80B for Gigabit symmetric broadband deployment. The Fiber Broadband Association and its members have been meeting with numerous Congressional offices to gain bipartisan support for this bill and to ensure this effort is included in the significant infrastructure package the Administration is preparing," said Bolton.
— Nicole Ferraro, contributing editor and host of "The Divide
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Here's where you can find episode links for 'The Divide,' Light Reading's podcast series featuring conversations with broadband providers and policymakers working to close the digital divide.
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