WASHINGTON — On Wednesday, Rep. Marc Veasey (D–Texas) announced he would introduce as a standalone bill the strong Emergency Broadband Connectivity Fund provisions in the HEROES Act, the House of Representatives’ COVID-19 relief package that was unveiled earlier this week.
Veasey’s emergency broadband-benefits bill authorizes a fund of up to $8.8 billion over the next two years to support affordable broadband connections for low-income households and those who have lost jobs or income due to the COVID-19 crisis.
Eligible families include people who already have a Lifeline phone via the Federal Communications Commission’s phone-and-internet subsidy program. They and others who qualify for the subsidy under existing FCC guidelines could receive up to $50 per month for internet access. Recipients could choose to use that benefit to get service for free if they pick a plan that their broadband provider prices at $50 or less, or they could apply the $50 as a discount toward a faster or more robust plan.
“With work, school, and healthcare—not to mention basic communication between friends and families—now primarily taking place online, it is more important than ever that all Americans have access to a fast, reliable internet connection,” Rep. Veasey said in his announcement. “The spread of the Coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated the barriers that low-income and minority individuals already face when trying to access critically-needed broadband services.”
Free Press Action supports the HEROES Act provisions incorporating this emergency broadband benefit, as well as components outlawing internet and phone service disconnections during the national emergency. Free Press Action also supports lowering extortionate prices for communications services used by incarcerated individuals and their families as well as funding additional educational broadband programs.
Free Press Action Vice President of Policy and General Counsel Matt Wood made the following statement:
“Free Press Action thanks Representative Veasey for his foresight and leadership in putting this emergency broadband-benefits bill front and center in the nation’s response to the COVID-19 crisis. Getting online and staying connected to loved ones, jobs, schools, health care and other critical services is especially important during this time of vital social distancing and economic hardship.
“Millions of people across the country couldn’t afford to get online before the pandemic hit. Over the last two months, millions more have lost their jobs and found it harder or impossible to pay for essential services like internet access. COVID-19 is hitting poor people and communities of color the hardest — communities that are already disproportionately stranded on the wrong side of the digital divide. Representative Veasey recognizes that, unfortunately, the virus and the economic impacts of the crisis have heightened the barriers these communities already face in getting equitable access to services.
“The emergency broadband-benefits bill builds on the FCC’s successful Lifeline program, but adds congressional funding for a more significant $50-per-month benefit available to an even larger group of people. It would allow millions to afford internet connections at home without facing so many agonizing life-and-death choices about which critical goods and services they can afford to keep and which they will have to go without.”