Wyden and Leading Senate Democrats Introduce Bill to Expand Emergency Broadband Benefit Access

Wyden and Leading Senate Democrats Introduce Bill to Expand Emergency Broadband Benefit Access

New bill builds on program that provides support to working families to access the internet; Aids workers and families that need broadband to find jobs and access health care, education and other services; Improves coordination and speeds up benefits

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., with 15 leading Democrats including U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., today introduced new legislation building on the Emergency Broadband Connections Act to ensure working families can stay online through the current economic and health crisis.

Sens. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., Edward Markey, D-Mass, Richard Durbin, D-Ill., Raphael Warnock, D-Ga., Cory Booker, D-N.J., Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., Robert Menendez, D-N.J., Tammy Baldwin, D-Wisc., Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., Dianne Feinstein, D-Ca., Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and Patty Murray, D-Wash., sponsored the new bill, which was also included in Democrats’ comprehensive legislation to expand affordable internet access. 

“Democrats made a massive down-payment on broadband in the last relief package,” Wyden said. “This bill will make sure that the families who need broadband the most don’t lose access just as our country can see the end of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

"Now—as millions of Americans are still working from home, learning remotely, and trying to make it through to the end of this pandemic—would be the absolute worst time for Americans to lose a critical utility like internet service,” said Merkley. “Oregonians and people across America deserve to know that as we weather this storm together, they will still be able to go to work, go to school, buy groceries, and stay connected to loved ones—all of which many depend on the internet to do.”

The new legislation would authorize an additional $6 billion for the Emergency Broadband Benefit program, to accommodate high demand during the COVID-19 pandemic. That program provides $50 per month benefit to workers who have been laid off or furloughed during the pandemic and $75 per month on Tribal lands, along with a range of other assistance to ensure families can access critical online services. Broadband connections are essential for Americans seeking to get new jobs, and to access school, health care and other government services.

The bill also speeds up benefit approvals by providing funding to help states participate in the National Lifeline Eligibility verifier and requiring the Federal Communications Commission to coordinate with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to set up automated connections between the National Lifeline Eligibility Verifier and the National Accuracy Clearinghouse for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

The bill is endorsed by a broad coalition of consumer advocacy, civil rights, and industry groups, including: ACLU, the National Consumer Law Center, Public Knowledge, Engine, Schools, Health & Libraries Broadband (SHLB) Coalition, National Hispanic Media Coalition, Rural Voices for Conservation Coalition, Asian Americans Advancing Justice and the National Council on Aging.

Olivia Wein, Staff Attorney, National Consumer Law Center: “Black, Latino, Native American and Alaska Native consumers have lower broadband subscription rates than their white counterparts, and the main barrier to broadband service is cost. The $6 billion for the Emergency Broadband Benefit program will help close the digital divide by providing low-income households with up to $50/month for essential broadband service (up to $75/month for households on Tribal lands) and the Act also facilitates automated eligibility determinations for enhanced program efficiency and program integrity. On behalf of our low-income clients, we commend the leadership of Senator Wyden in introducing this critically important bill.”

Jenna Leventoff, Senior Policy Counsel, Public Knowledge: “The pandemic has made it more important than ever to be connected to high-speed internet, while also causing a recession that has forced many to choose between their broadband service or feeding their families. We applaud Sen. Wyden for ensuring that the Emergency Broadband Benefit will help those in need stay connected throughout the pandemic by providing an additional $6 billion for the fund. We look forward to working with Sen. Wyden as he advances this important legislation.

“We’re grateful for the introduction of the Enhanced Emergency Broadband Act, which will help narrow the nation’s digital divide. Increasing connectivity will boost opportunities for using and creating innovative services and tools online, and it will help ensure that entrepreneurs of all backgrounds have access to the reliable Internet access they need to launch new companies.”

John Windhausen Jr., Executive Director, Schools, Health & Libraries Broadband (SHLB) Coalition: “Congress took an important step toward helping the millions of people without home broadband access by passing the $3.2 billion Emergency Broadband Benefit in December's COVID-19 relief package. SHLB applauds Senator Wyden for working to strengthen this critical program by introducing the Enhanced Emergency Broadband Act, which would continue the connections for low-income households in need beyond the pandemic.”

Brenda V. Castillo, President and CEO, National Hispanic Media Coalition: "The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic will be felt for years to come, particularly by those who are on the wrong side of the digital divide. NHMC commends Senator Wyden for introducing this crucial legislation to ensure that those who are disconnected can become connected with additional funding for the Emergency Broadband Benefit program. This is an important step to ensuring Latinos, as one of the demographics hit hardest by this pandemic, have access to the internet at home."

Emily Chi, Assistant Director of Telecom, Tech, and Media Diversity, Asian Americans Advancing Justice: “AAJC strongly supports the Enhanced Emergency Broadband Act. Bridging the digital divide is critical to supporting the well-being of AAPIs and other BIPOC communities. We must ensure all of our communities have access to affordable and reliable internet so that they have the essential services, connections, and opportunities that they need to thrive.”

Ramsey Alwin, President and CEO, National Council on Aging: “The COVID-19 pandemic has shined a bright spotlight on the unacceptable inequities around digital access in the United States. While older adults with high-speed internet access benefited from telehealth and food delivery during the pandemic, those without broadband suffered. Too many older adults face multiple barriers ranging from digital literacy to affordable, accessible devices and broadband. The Enhanced Emergency Broadband Act would help Americans, particularly those with low-incomes, by expanding the availability of the Emergency Broadband Benefit and making long-overdue improvements to streamline access for the related Lifeline Program.”

Jonathan Schwantes, Senior Policy Counsel, Consumer Reports: “Consumer Reports strongly supports the Enhanced Emergency Broadband Act introduced by Senator Wyden today. This bill represents a direct, meaningful and effective way to help our most vulnerable Americans affected by the COVID-19 crisis stay connected to the internet. If it wasn’t glaringly important before, the year-long pandemic has confirmed the vital need of a broadband internet connection — one that is reliable, affordable, and for some of us, simply available. Too many Americans are not able to access or afford broadband. This is especially true for people who’ve lost their jobs or can’t find regular work since the coronavirus shuttered many businesses. Providing continued federal support to help consumers pay their monthly internet service bill is a straightforward solution and will help immediately. CR stands ready to help Congress pass this important and timely measure.”

Tyson Bertone-Riggs, Policy Analyst, Rural Voices for Conservation Coalition: “The Emergency Broadband Benefit can provide vital assistance to those in need of essential broadband services, including many in rural communities. The Rural Voices for Conservation Coalition is excited to see this legislation which would help increase funding for the important EBB program and allow it to better serve rural communities and others. The importance of this program has been made all the more clear as the pandemic has highlighted the need for internet connectivity for access to health services, education, and connection with family and friends.”

Shirley Bloomfield, CEO, NTCA-The Rural Broadband Association: “On behalf of NTCA, I applaud Senator Wyden for introducing legislation to sustain the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program. At a time when internet access is more important than ever before, more funding is needed to keep families connected as they and their communities recover from the economic effects of the pandemic. The bill also makes improvements to the verifying process that make it easier for small providers to participate in the program, which benefits the rural communities they serve.”

Kate Tumarello, Executive Director, Engine: “We’re grateful for the introduction of the Enhanced Emergency Broadband Act, which will help narrow the nation’s digital divide. Increasing connectivity will boost opportunities for using and creating innovative services and tools online, and it will help ensure that entrepreneurs of all backgrounds have access to the reliable Internet access they need to launch new companies.”