Dem COVID-19 Package Includes $86B Boost For Broadband

By Kelcee Griffis
Law360 is providing free access to its coronavirus coverage to make sure all members of the legal community have accurate information in this time of uncertainty and change. Use the form below to sign up for any of our weekly newsletters. Signing up for any of our section newsletters will opt you in to the weekly Coronavirus briefing.

Sign up for our Health newsletter

You must correct or enter the following before you can sign up:

Select more newsletters to receive for free [+] Show less [-]

Thank You!

Law360 (April 1, 2020, 5:19 PM EDT) -- House Democrats unveiled their plan Wednesday for a fourth-phase coronavirus rescue package, proposing $86 billion for broadband infrastructure and $12 billion to support next-generation 911 services.

The allocations follow the contours of a $760 billion infrastructure plan that House leaders first rolled out in January. Now, they're pitching the package as a way to shore up struggling health care, transit and utility systems on the heels of a $2 trillion relief effort that targets workers and the economy.

"Telemedicine, teleworking, teleschooling and the increased use of social media and video conferencing by Americans connecting with loved ones during the epidemic have made access to high-speed broadband more critical than ever," House Democratic leaders said in a statement Wednesday.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi echoed that stance in a Wednesday call with reporters, citing people's reliance on the internet due to widespread stay-at-home orders.

During the same call, House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone, D-N.J., cited a Federal Communications Commission study that found the U.S. would need to invest $86 billion in broadband infrastructure over five years to ensure all citizens have internet access. That's where the targeted funding level comes from, according to Pallone.

"I don't have to tell you how important it is in the context of [the] coronavirus," he said.

If implemented, the $12 billion allocated for upgrading the nation's outdated 911 system would allow people to text first responders and send photos, video or audio messages for context during emergencies.

Additionally, the plan includes $10 billion to stand up community health centers and ensure they have broadband connections.

According to House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., the package would also include "dig once" principles that would facilitate the installation of fiber lines at the same time that new roads are being built. Further, it would include language from Rep. Jerry McNerney's Digital Equity Act to close gaps in digital literacy via two grant programs, Clyburn said.

The CARES Act already allocated $200 million to the FCC to provide the "telecommunications services, information services and devices necessary" to support telehealth services in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The agency passed its own guidance on how the funding will be disbursed on Tuesday.

Beyond that allocation, broadband advocates said the bill did precious little to address the "digital divide" — the disparity between areas that have and do not have reliable access to the internet.

--Editing by Gemma Horowitz.

For a reprint of this article, please contact

Hello! I'm Law360's automated support bot.

How can I help you today?

For example, you can type:
  • I forgot my password
  • I took a free trial but didn't get a verification email
  • How do I sign up for a newsletter?
Ask a question!