Senate Passes Coronavirus Relief Package, E-Rate Funding and Broadband Infrastructure
Over the weekend, the U.S. Senate passed the Coronavirus Relief Package, which includes the Emergency Educational Connections Act, making available more than $7 billion in funding for expansion of the E-Rate program and $10 billion for extending broadband.
“Throughout the pandemic, internet connectivity has been a saving grace for kids, teachers and families fighting to continue their education. But for the millions of students trapped on the wrong side of the digital divide, the homework gap has made it harder, if not impossible, to continue their education. This is a wrong that should never happen again in our country, and I am pleased to see Congress take action to extend and expand E-Rate and invest in extending broadband," said INCOMPAS CEO Chip Pickering.
“Every penny invested in stronger, faster, more affordable broadband infrastructure has the potential to unlock a better future for our students and our economy. We wish to thank and commend Sens. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), Rep. Grace Meng (D-N.Y.) and many others who fought to include the Emergency Educational Connections Act in the relief package and Sens. Angus King (I-Maine) and Warner (D-Va.) for their leadership on broadband infrastructure. It is an achievement that will improve the lives of millions of students and families throughout the U.S. today and tomorrow.”
INCOMPAS member Transaction Network Services (TNS) released its 2021 robocall investigation report, noting that U.S. consumers received 77 billion unwanted calls in 2020. This marks a 28% drop from the prior year, suggesting collective efforts by policymakers, regulators, carriers and industry are driving down robocall volume.
TNS said in 2020 bad actors focused on the pandemic and the U.S. presidential election, launching targeted scams and misinformation campaigns.
The TNS report also found, among other things, tier 1 U.S. carriers remain a small part of the problem, broader adoption of STIR/SHAKEN by tier 1 providers contributed to the reduction in robocalls, and there were twice as many calls placed to wireline numbers than to wireless numbers.
FCC Milestone Dates for EBB Program
The FCC issued a public notice on March 4 announcing a timeline for submission of information by broadband providers to participate in the Emergency Broadband Benefit (EBB) program.
The FCC said ETCs and their affiliates can elect to participate by filing the appropriate information with USAC and do not need to seek approval from the bureau. All other broadband providers need to seek approval from the bureau to participate.
March 8 - Non-ETC provider application and alternative eligibility verification process portal opens
March 11 - Provider election notice inbox opens
March 22 - Non-ETC provider priority application and alternative eligibility verification process deadline
The bureau will announce in a future public notice the official commencement of the program and provided links to an FCC and USAC website for more details on program participation. Late last week, the FCC also released a fact sheet summarizing the EBB Report and Order.
Sens. Wicker, Blackburn Bill Promotes Broadband Priorities
Sens. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), ranking member of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, and Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), ranking member of the Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety, and Data Security, introduced the Broadband Reserve Fund Act.
This legislation would :
Create a Broadband Reserve Fund at the Treasury Department where the net proceeds from the C-Band spectrum auction would be deposited, up to $65 billion;
Make funds available for Congress to authorize for use by the FCC or the NTIA;
Establish a sense of Congress to make potential uses for the fund that include broadband deployment in unserved areas, distance and remote learning, promoting digital equity and expanding internet access in minority communities and on Tribal lands, securing the communications supply chain, enhancing spectrum efficiency, modernizing public safety communications infrastructure, and increasing accessibility to precision agriculture technologies, and telehealth technologies; and
Require additional action by Congress to direct the eligible agencies on how to use the money. The funds would be available until 2030, at which point any remaining proceeds would be deposited in the general fund of the Treasury for deficit reduction.