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Public Knowledge Disappointed in Stimulus Bill Missing the Broadband Mark, Overlooking Struggling Local Media

March 25, 2020 , , , , ,

Today, the United States Senate voted to pass a stimulus bill, “Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act,” to address the coronavirus pandemic by providing economic support for individual Americans and businesses. Unfortunately, the bill disregards broadband subsidies for low-income Americans, largely neglects broadband deployment, and rejects any requirements for broadband providers to drop data caps, overage fees, or throttling practices to keep people connected. The bill also largely overlooks support for local journalism and privacy protections for geolocation and health data. Public Knowledge is very concerned that this bill misses an opportunity to help Americans on the wrong side of the digital divide during this time of crisis, as well as the local journalists they depend on.

The following can be attributed to Jenna Leventoff, Senior Policy Counsel at Public Knowledge:

“During this pandemic, it is Congress’ responsibility to protect Americans by giving them what they need to stay home and stay safe. Today’s legislation failed to do that by omitting broadband subsidies for those who need them most and devoting only a pittance to deploy broadband where there is none. By failing to help people access reliable, high-speed broadband, Congress is effectively encouraging Americans to put their health and the health of others at risk by continuing to leave their homes to learn, work, or get medical care. For these reasons, no American should have to choose between buying broadband and buying groceries.

“One of the few opportunities to assist with connectivity in the bill provides funding for states to purchase broadband connected devices. If this is used to assist students taking online classes and doing their schoolwork from home, that is a start, but we are concerned about initial reports that these devices are on backorder. Furthermore, any internet service provider that receives funding from the stimulus bill through federal or state grants should meet specific obligations, like ramping up speeds where feasible or refusing to shut off service for those who suddenly lost their jobs, as a condition for receiving public money. We need more than just promises from providers of essential communications.

“We hope that any future stimulus packages will include measures that provide broadband subsidies to all who need it — particularly those who have lost their jobs because of this crisis — and will invest significantly more money in expanding broadband deployment. Additionally, we hope that future packages promote the quality of broadband so that Americans have fast enough, and reliable enough, connections to work and learn from home. Only complete universal access to quality, affordable broadband for all Americans will solve this connectivity problem during any future emergency.

“Congress should also provide funding for local media and require digital platforms to do more to combat misinformation and the growing ‘infodemic,’ as well as step in to protect consumer geolocation privacy. If Congress prioritizes both short- and long-term broadband access and infrastructure funding now, along with support for local journalism and rules to fight misinformation, our nation will be better prepared for the next emergency.” 

You may view our list of policy proposals for the next stimulus bill, as well as our recent blog post, “Tech Policy is a Public Health Issue,” for more information.