“Rip & Replace,” Broadband Maps Funded in COVID Relief Package


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Congress released details of the $900 billion coronavirus relief package on Monday.

It includes $7 billion for broadband connectivity and infrastructure. Perhaps of most interest to readers is the funding to support improved FCC broadband coverage maps and so-called “rip and replace,” the program to support smaller, rural carriers that remove untrusted gear from their networks.

The measure appropriates $65 million to the FCC to create broadband data maps required under the Broadband DATA Act. It also appropriates $1.9 billion for the FCC’s Secure and Trusted Reimbursement Program and expands eligibility for the program. Smaller providers and public or private educational institutions are prioritized for such reimbursements.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai called the “rip and replace” funding critical. Now that the funds have been appropriated and the FCC has adopted its Second Report and Order, which outlines the rules and procedures for the reimbursement program, rural carriers can confidently proceed with the replacement and removal process, according to the Rural Wireless Association. “The assurance of funding provides these small rural carriers the ability to go out to capital markets to finance their needs with the assurance that funding is available for reimbursement to pay off these loans,” noted RWA General Counsel Carri Bennet. 

The 5,000+-page relief package would support low-income households, households with residents who became unemployed during the pandemic, certain households in tribal areas and communities around historically Black colleges and universities. It includes $3.2 billion for a $50-per-month emergency broadband benefit for people who are laid off or furloughed during the pandemic. That includes a subsidy for low-cost devices such as computers and tablets. Internet service providers that deliver the discounted service or devices to customers can receive a reimbursement from the FCC for such costs.

Two grant programs at the NTIA would be established. The first is a grant program to support broadband connectivity on tribal lands throughout the country. The grants would be directed to tribal governments to be used not only for broadband deployment on tribal lands, but also telehealth, distance learning, broadband affordability, and digital inclusion. $1 billion is appropriated for this program.

The second is a $300 million broadband deployment program to support broadband infrastructure deployment to areas lacking broadband, especially rural areas. The grants would be issued to qualifying partnerships between state and local governments and fixed broadband providers. Priority for grants would be given to networks that would reach the most unserved consumers.

Lawmakers worked late into Monday night on the legislation, which would not only send another round of relief but also keep the government running through September 30, 2021.

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