- Congress on Monday approved $US7 billion in aid to help lower-income Americans get internet access.
- The bill would allocate rebates of up to $US75 a month to help certain low-income Americans pay their internet bills.
- The COVID-19 pandemic has intensified concerns about the digital divide between Americans with and without high-speed internet access.
- Americans are increasingly reliant on the internet, but more than half of low-income Americans worry about their ability to pay broadband bills, a Pew Research Centre poll found.
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Congress approved $US7 billion in aid on Monday to help lower-income Americans get access to the internet. The spending, which is part of the larger $US900 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 $US3 billion for monthly rebates on internet bills, providing up to $US50 per month for low-income families. Households on Indian reservations can qualify for up to $US75 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 Centre 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 $US900 billion stimulus package passed by Congress on Monday. The package includes $US600 direct payments, a $US300 boost in unemployment benefits, and a $US15 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 $US600 direct payments insufficient.
Read the full report from the Washington Post here.