United States Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon yesterday introduced the “Emergency Broadband Connections Act”, which would create a new Emergency Benefit for Broadband Service to provide free or low-cost broadband service for low-income families as well as workers recently laid off or furloughed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The new bill, which is co-sponsored by 26 of Wyden’s Senate colleagues (all Democrats except for Independent Bernie Sanders), parallels the Emergency Broadband Benefit provisions of the “HEROES Act”, the $3 trillion COVID relief legislation passed by the House of Representatives in May. A companion House bill, also called the “Emergency Broadband Connections Act” (HR 6881), was introduced by Congressman Marc Veasey of Texas as part of the runup to the HEROES Act, and referred to the Committee on Energy and Commerce.
Like the House legislation, the Emergency Broadband Connections Act would require internet providers to offer $50 monthly discounts on “normal” home broadband bills, i.e. services and prices advertised to the general public as of May 1, to eligible customers. (The monthly reimbursement for residents of tribal lands would be up to $75.) The FCC would reimburse providers for these discounts as well as up to $100 per household for computers or tablets supplied to eligible households, using an $8.8 billion “Emergency Broadband Connectivity Fund” authorized by the legislation. Eligible customers would include households that qualify for the existing Lifeline or Federal school lunch program, have household members receiving Pell Grants for higher education, or have “experienced a substantial loss of income since February 29, 2020, documented by layoff or furlough notice, application for unemployment insurance benefits, or similar documentation”.
The Wyden bill also incorporates provisions of the HEROES Act which enhance benefits under the existing Lifeline program during the pandemic.
NDIA Executive Director Angela Siefer praised the introduction of Emergency Broadband Connections Act. “As we said when the HEROES Act was introduced, an across-the-board broadband benefit for low-income and economically distressed households is essential to our communities;’ efforts to weather the pandemic. Now more than ever, a home broadband connection is a basic necessity. We thank Senator Wyden and his colleagues for recognizing this fact and acting on it.”