On March 11th, House Majority Whip James E. Clyburn (SC-06) introduced a new version of the Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act (AAIA), which promises to invest $94 billion to build high-speed broadband infrastructure in underserved communities and ensure that the resulting internet service is affordable. 

The biggest price tag in the Act is $80 billion for deploying broadband infrastructure nationwide, with a concentrated focus on unserved and underserved rural, suburban and urban areas. ISPs networks that are built with these funds are required to offer an affordable service plan to every consumer.

Digital inclusion highlights of the bill:

  • $6 billion for the extension of The Emergency Broadband Benefit Program. 
  • $2 billion for the Emergency Connectivity Fund at the Federal Communications. Commission (FCC) to fund distance learning for K-12 students and teachers.
  • $60 million for grants to States to develop their digital equity plans and an additional $625 million for a State Digital Equity Capacity Grant program to implement digital equity plans. No less than five percent of the funds must be used to award grants to Indian tribes, Alaska Native entities, and Native Hawaiian organizations.
  • $625 million for a State Digital Equity Competitive Program to be awarded to local entities, tribal governments, Alaska Native entities, Native Hawaiian organizations, non-profits, anchor institutions, educational entities, and workforce development programs for digital inclusion activities. No less than five percent of these funds will be awarded to Indian tribes, Alaska Native entities, and Native Hawaiian organizations.
  • Requires the recently established Office of Internet Connectivity and Growth (OICG) within the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) to report on 
        • the non- economic benefits of broadband service, including any effect on civic engagement, and on the extent to which beneficiaries of the Universal Service Fund receive service at the speeds required by such program.
        • how existing federal programs have expanded access and adoption of broadband service for socially disadvantaged individuals.
        • the extent to which affordability is a contributing factor to the lack of broadband adoption and on ways to improve Federal subsidies to households to make broadband affordable.
  • Prohibits state governments from enforcing laws or regulations that inhibit local governments,  public-private partnerships, and cooperatives from delivering broadband service. 
  • Requires the FCC to adopt rules to collect from service providers certain data regarding price of broadband service plans and subscription rates and data to determine the resiliency of the network in the event of a natural disaster or emergency. Requires the FCC to make this data available to other Federal agencies, State-run broadband entities, a unit of local government, and an individual conducting research for noncommercial purposes. The FCC may not share any of this data with an entity or individual unless the agency has determined that they have the capacity to properly protect any personally identifiable information contained in the data.

The following quote can be attributed to NDIA’s Executive Director, Angela Siefer: 

“The COVID-19 crisis has made everyone aware that tens of millions of our neighbors still lack basic internet connections, and they live in communities of all kinds – big cities, small towns, suburban as well as rural and tribal communities.The AAIA Bill is an historic effort to address multiple causes of our persistent digital divide. It includes a substantial investment to extend high speed internet access but also addresses the United States’ inequitable access and use of the internet by authorizing additional funding for the Emergency Broadband Benefit to make access affordable to everyone, supporting state level digital equity planning, helping states and communities fund digital inclusion initiatives, and requiring the FCC and internet service providers to make the price of home broadband service transparent and public. These are all vital steps toward digital equity for all Americans.