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Stimulus billions for internet service will likely prove only a Band-Aid for the digital divide


Stimulus money dedicated to paying for internet access — including $7 billion in this week’s new law — is likely to prove a short-term Band-Aid on a long-term problem.

Why it matters: The pandemic put a spotlight on the need for internet access to participate in work and school — access that millions of Americans still lack. That need will remain even after the pandemic, and the cash tied to it, recedes.

Driving the news: President Joe Biden on Thursday signed the American Rescue Plan into law, which includes more than $7 billion for schools to use to connect students who lack internet access at home.

  • Congress’ December pandemic relief package created a $3.2 billion Emergency Broadband Benefit that will provide a $50-a-month discount off home internet bills for low-income Americans.
  • The funding programs will help connect some of the estimated 12 million students who lack the connectivity necessary for distance learning.

Yes, but: They are temporary measures tied to the pandemic, not long-term solutions to close the digital divide. The programs end either soon after the pandemic public health emergency does, or when their money runs out.

What they’re saying: “This isn’t a problem that’s going to go away because of the pandemic or a vaccine,” Amina Fazlullah, equity policy counsel for Common Sense Media, told Axios. “Resilient and reliable access to education is an issue that’s going to follow us afterwards as we’re trying to address learning loss and ensure everyone can catch up.”

Between the lines: The new broadband funding programs are focused on what’s needed now to help people, but they could set the basis for Congress to create permanent programs.

  • “I think it would’ve been really hard for Congress to do something permanent right now,” said Evan Marwell, CEO of Education Superhighway. “What I’m hopeful is both of those programs will really show Congress that we need these affordability programs, and they will come back and do permanent legislation in the next year.”

What to watch: Democrats in the House and Senate introduced legislation Thursday that would both add funding to the new programs, and provide additional billions to be used for broadband.

  • House Energy & Commerce Democrats on Thursday introduced a wide-ranging infrastructure bill that includes more than $94 billion in broadband spending.
  • Similar legislation introduced Thursday by Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.) includes funding for digital inclusion projects and requires broadband deployment projects to include an affordable service option.

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The Article Was Written/Published By: Margaret Harding McGill

The new stimulus bill makes illegal streaming a felony


We’ve already written several stories about the new pandemic stimulus package that Congress approved yesterday, including funding to increase broadband access and for new energy initiatives.

There are, however, other provisions that could also have serious implications for the technology and media worlds. For one thing, the bill includes a proposal from Senator Thom Tillis (a Republican from North Carolina) that would make illegal streaming a felony, with penalties of up to 10 years imprisonment.

When Tillis released a draft of his proposal earlier this month, the open internet/intellectual property nonprofit Public Knowledge released a statement arguing that there’s no need “for further criminal penalties for copyright infringement,” but also saying that the bill is “narrowly tailored and avoids criminalizing users” and “does not criminalize streamers who may include unlicensed works as part of their streams” — instead, it focuses on those who pirate for commercial gain.

The bill also includes the CASE Act, which creates a new Copyright Claims Board within the U.S. Copyright Office. This system has been compared to small claims court, with the ability to adjudicate copyright claims and order payments of up to $30,000.

When the House of Representatives was debating the CASE Act last year, proponents defended it as giving independent artists an easier way to pursue copyright infringement claims, while groups like the American Civil Liberties Union and the Electronic Frontier Foundation said it could have a negative impact on individual internet users. Techdirt’s Mike Masnick argued yesterday that it will “supercharge copyright trolling exactly at a time when we need to fix the law to have less trolling.”

Now that the House and Senate have approved the bill, it’s going to President Donald Trump for his signature. Since the full text was only released yesterday, we can probably expect plenty more debate over its implications in the weeks and months to come.

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The Article Was Written/Published By: Anthony Ha