With the COVID-19 pandemic, the need for a strong internet connection is undeniable. With office work being done remotely and education being given through live streams, it’s important for people to have access to the internet at all times.
For many low-income families and schools located in low-income areas, the pandemic has posed a significant challenge with many students not having access to the internet. For this reason, the CARES Act was created.
What Is the CARES Act?
The CARES Act, also known as the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, was passed on March 27th, 2020. With this bill, $2.2 trillion was used to provide aid to Americans affected negatively by COVID-19. The CARES Act led to the creation of the Coronavirus Relief Fund (CRF) which allocated $150 billion in payments to state and local governments to mitigate the impacts of the pandemic. This fund is used to help states get the money they need to cover COVID-19 related costs that were not previously anticipated.
For many states, this includes broadband access. The demand for internet connectivity is the highest it's ever been with both education and work shifting online. States have taken this opportunity to expand connectivity in the areas of education for K-12 and post-secondary students, and residential broadband infrastructure in rural and underserved areas.
How Has This Funding Been Used?
Many states have chosen to use their CRF dollars to help families with K-12 students at home purchase internet devices and/or wireless hotspots so they can have adequate access to the internet.
For example, the Des Moines School Board increased its instruction-related expense budget to roughly $291 million. This budget is allocated towards buying additional laptops for the district’s online and in-person students. Each student will now be able to have a device. The budget will also go towards revamping the district’s HVAC systems to better circulate air and improve ventilation.
Other states investing in digital learning include Alabama, Connecticut, Idaho, Maryland, Nevada, and Tennessee.
Some states have used their CRF funds to work on developing residential broadband infrastructure. Ohio allocated $50 million of its relief funds to the state’s BroadbandOhio Connectivity grant, which gave devices to eligible households through the end of 2020.
Many other states developed their own emergency broadband funds like Delaware, Idaho, Mississippi, New Hampshire, and South Carolina. Even states that had pre-pandemic grant programs developed emergency broadband funds. Vermont, for example, allocated $17.4 of its relief funding to expand its COVID-Response Accelerated Broadband Connectivity Program to connect homes, businesses, and schools to high-speed internet.
What is the Emergency Broadband Benefit?
The Emergency Broadband Benefit program created by the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) offers discounts of up to $50 a month for households that meet eligibility criteria. This program will significantly help families that are struggling to meet the newfound internet requirements of the pandemic. Eligible households can even receive a discount of up to $100 to purchase an internet device like a laptop or tablet.
With the CARES Act and the resulting CRF fund and Emergency Broadband Benefit, states have been able to fund school districts and ensure that every student has equal access to their lessons online. Struggling families have also been able to receive the assistance they need to provide a better learning experience for their children.