WASHINGTON — On Friday, the House of Representatives passed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (or “IIJA”), a $1.2-trillion deal that the Senate passed in August.
The bill touches on a wide range of spending projects and infrastructure-policy priorities, including more than $40 billion for broadband deployment and $14.2 billion for broadband-affordability measures. That affordability money will go to a renamed and slightly revamped Federal Communications Commission program, launched this spring as the Emergency Broadband Benefit program, but labeled and funded in the new legislation as a more permanent Affordable Connectivity Program.
It will provide households living near the poverty line or enrolled in other federal-aid programs with up to $30 per month for the internet package of their choosing from participating providers. That maximum allowance will increase to $75 per month for people living on Tribal Lands and potentially in other remote and rural areas.
The bill also sets aside billions more for digital-inclusion efforts, Tribal connectivity and other network investments. And it calls on the FCC and other federal agencies to increase broadband-pricing transparency and prevent discrimination in deployment based on the race, ethnicity or income of residents in an internet service provider’s territory.
Free Press Action Vice President of Policy and General Counsel Matt Wood said:
“Affordable internet access for everyone is a must in modern society. The pandemic has made that need all too clear. People affected by the digital divide struggle to attend online classes, work remotely, apply for unemployment, access telehealth services, sign up for vaccination appointments and take part in so many facets of everyday life.
“The affordability provisions in the infrastructure bill represent a historic milestone. Never before have we seen such a meaningful congressional investment in closing the digital divide for people who may already have high-speed internet networks available in their neighborhoods, but who still cannot afford to connect.
“Millions of people in that predicament simply can’t pay the high price to get connected without the kind of robust financial support this bill offers. This pernicious internet-adoption gap is built on income inequality and systemic racial discrimination that especially impacts Black, Latinx and Indigenous communities.
“The House’s passage of the IIJA is another huge leap toward closing that divide. We eagerly await President Biden’s signing this bill into law.”