Even though thousands of Americans are getting vaccinated each day, the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic continues. Families who are still struggling to pay utilities, small businesses still have difficulty keeping their doors open, and students continue to distance learn while parents telework, wherever possible. In order to combat the financial strain the pandemic has placed on many households, President Biden announced his support for the American Rescue Plan (“Plan” or “ARP”) in January 2021, and signed it into law on March 12th.
The Plan provides $1.9 trillion in mandatory funding, program changes, and tax policies, all critical steps to reduce the collateral damage of the pandemic. Provisions impact over a dozen issue areas including state and local aid, direct payments to citizens, and support for education, public health, housing and, importantly, broadband.
ARP creates the Emergency Connectivity Fund, which provides $7.171 billion to reimburse schools and libraries for providing free broadband service and connected devices for students and patrons to use in their homes. This funding is slated to be introduced into the Federal Communications Commission’s E-Rate program.
The E-Rate program has historically made money available to school and libraries to increase their own broadband speeds and capacity. ARP funding will allow schools and libraries to extend internet access into the communities they serve. This provision also acknowledges that classrooms are no longer limited to the physical walls that make up a school. Broadband support must reach the households where students learn.
In addition to the Emergency Connectivity Fund, the ARP includes $10 billion for the Capital Projects Fund. This fund is intended to help states, territories, and Tribal governments carry out capital projects that directly enable work, education, and health monitoring, including remote options, in response to the pandemic.
States, schools, and libraries will be able to expand broadband access and adoption for communities that need it the most.