Congress approved $7 billion in aid on Monday to help lower-income Americans get access to the internet. The spending, which is part of the larger $900 billion COVID-19 stimulus package, would help low-income Americans pay their monthly internet bills and would invest in extending internet access to remote areas of the country, according to the Washington Post.
The plan allocates about $3 billion for monthly rebates on internet bills, providing up to $50 per month for low-income families. Households on Indian reservations can qualify for up to $75 a month. The bill will also focus on longer term efforts to support internet access, such as allocating funding to determine which regions lack access to high speed internet and improving infrastructure, the Post reported.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) would be in charge of carrying out the program, the Washington Post reported.
The COVID-19 pandemic has intensified concerns about the digital divide between Americans with broadband access and those without. Americans are increasingly reliant on the Internet for access to basic needs, as doctors appointments become tele-visits, work goes remote, and students of all ages attend classes via video platforms. But the economic downturn associated with COVID-19 has made paying internet bills harder than ever.
Some 28% of broadband users said that they are worried about being able to pay their internet bills, and 30% of smartphone users said they were concerned about being able to pay their cell phone bills, according to a Pew Research Center poll conducted in April. And the problem is even more intense for lower income Americans: more than half said they were worried about being able to pay cellular and broadband bills.
The aid is comes as part of the larger $900 billion stimulus package passed by Congress on Monday. The package includes $600 direct payments, a $300 boost in unemployment benefits, and a $15 billion bailout for airlines, among other spending.
The legislation has been the subject of months of negotiations and now awaits a sign-off from President Trump. However, the president called the bill a “disgrace” on Wednesday, deeming $600 direct payments insufficient.
Read the full report from the Washington Post here.