Billion-dollar US broadband bonanza awaits Biden's blessing – what you need to know

Infrastructure bill brings $65bn to freshen up American internet

US broadband is about to get a major cash injection through the $1.2tr bipartisan infrastructure bill approved by the House of Representatives on Friday.

The bill, passed by the Senate in August, is expected to be signed by President Biden in the next few days.

"The Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal will deliver $65 billion to help ensure that every American has access to reliable high-speed internet through a historic investment in broadband infrastructure deployment," the White House said in a statement. "The legislation will also help lower prices for internet service and help close the digital divide, so that more Americans can afford internet access."

The infrastructure bill includes:

  • $42.5bn for the Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment program, which provides grants to help internet service providers develop broadband connectivity in underserved areas in the US States, Washington DC, Puerto Rico and other US territories. The program will be administered by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA).
  • $14.2bn for the Emergency Broadband Benefit program, which has subsidized broadband access during the pandemic and has been renamed the Affordable Connectivity program to reflect that it's no longer pegged to a specific public health event. It now provides a $30 monthly discount, down from $50, on internet service for qualifying households and applies to all service tiers, so as to prevent ISPs from offering it selectively to steer customers toward more profitable plans.
  • $2.75bn for the Digital Equity Act, to help states ensure underserved communities have equal access to the internet and to fund projects that make the internet more accessible to a broad range of people.
  • $2bn for Tribal Connectivity, to improve broadband in areas governed by Native American tribes.
  • $1bn for Middle Mile Connectivity, to improve network interconnection points (leased dark fiber, interoffice transport, backhaul, carrier-neutral internet exchange facilities, and so on).

The infrastructure bill also forbids Digital Discrimination by internet service providers, which means that access should not be based on income level, race, ethnicity, color, religion, or national origin. It also calls for the restoration of Consumer Broadband Labels, which disclose broadband service prices and features.

The Obama administration unveiled broadband service labels in 2016, based on a 2015 FCC net neutrality order that expanded disclosures established in 2010, only to see them tossed by the Trump administration.

The bill supports projects that will provide broadband speeds of at least 100Mbps down and 20Mbps up, with sufficient latency for real-time interactive applications. And it defines "underserved locations" to mean less than 25Mbps down and 3Mbps up, or lacking the latency to support real-time interactive applications.

"Implemented properly, this investment should go great distances toward connecting the millions of rural consumers who still need reliable, sustainable and affordable access – improving economic opportunity, job creation, education, healthcare and civic engagement," said Shirley Bloomfield, CEO of the Rural Broadband Association, in a statement.

The Benton Institute for Broadband and Society has summarized the broadband enhancements and describes the process by which states should woo NTIA for funds. ®

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