2021 Consolidated Appropriations Act – Effects on Telecommunications Clients

Thoughtware Alert Published: Jan 06, 2021
Telecommunications Towers

The 2021 Consolidated Appropriations Act (Act) was recently signed into law. At 5,593 pages, it represents broad compromises necessary to secure its passage by both chambers of Congress before the 2020 sessions ended. Among its many provisions, the Act will help protect consumers during the COVID-19 pandemic and takes serious steps to strengthen broadband infrastructure that will maintain and provide ongoing benefits in rural, low-income, tribal, and other historically underserved areas of the country.

Here’s a preliminary overview of areas directly affecting our telecommunications and data services clients amid the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond. These areas expand broadband services across all U.S. communities during this time of need but also work to secure communications networks and boost domestic supply chains.

Continues Emergency Broadband Benefits for Low-Income Households (Section 904)

  • $3.2 billion in a temporary emergency broadband support program for low-income households to be administered by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). This funding will assist with getting or remaining connected to internet access for the duration of the public health emergency.

Targets Additional Broadband Expansion to Unserved Areas (§905)

  • $300 million broadband deployment program administered by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) to support broadband infrastructure deployment to unserved areas, prioritizing unserved and rural areas.

Continues the FCC Telehealth Pilot Grant Program (§903)

  • $250 million in one-time additional FCC funding to continue its Telehealth Pilot Program authorized under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act.

Provides Additional Support to Connect Minority Communities (§902)

  • $285 million to establish an NTIA Office of Minority Broadband for minority-serving education institutions and qualifying partnerships with minority-owned businesses to receive internet access.

Expands Broadband Spending in Tribal Lands (§905)

  • $1 billion to establish an NTIA program expanding broadband infrastructure deployment, telehealth, and broadband adoption activities for federally recognized tribal nations.

Funds Broadband Mapping Improvements (§906)

  • $65 million to fully fund provisions of the Broadband Deployment Accuracy and Technological Availability Act by appropriating the funds to carry out Title VIII of the Communications Act of 1934. This funding will support the FCC’s upcoming changes to FCC Form 477 and mapping capabilities for Rural Digital Opportunity Fund Phase II.

Funds Supply Chain Security Program (§901 & §906)

  • $1.9 billion to fully fund the rip-and-replace program established by the Secure and Trusted Communications Networks Act. This targets small and midsize communications providers with 10 million subscribers or fewer to replace equipment in their communications networks that poses a national security threat.

The Act also establishes ongoing federal agency frameworks to equitably expand broadband infrastructure and services across the country.

  • The Broadband Interagency Coordination Act (§904) requires the FCC, NTIA, and U.S. Department of Agriculture to enter into an interagency agreement to coordinate the distribution of federal funds for broadband programs, prevent duplication of support, and ensure stewardship of taxpayer dollars.

  • Section 903 establishes an NTIA Office of Internet Connectivity and Growth. This office will be tasked with performing certain responsibilities related to broadband access, adoption, and deployment, such as performing public outreach to promote access and adoption of high-speed broadband service and streamlining and standardizing the process for applying for federal broadband support.

  • Section 902, the Don’t Break Up the T-Band Act, repeals the requirement for the FCC to reallocate and auction the 470-to-512-megahertz (MHz) band, commonly referred to as the T-band. It also directs the FCC to implement rules to clarify acceptable expenditures on which 9-1-1 fees can be spent and creates a strike force to consider how the federal government can end 9-1-1 fee diversion.

  • Section 905 references the Beat CHINA for 5G Act, which directs the president, acting through the Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Communications and Information, to withdraw or modify federal spectrum assignments in the 3450-to-3550-MHz band. It also directs the FCC to establish competitive bidding to permit nonfederal, flexible-use services in this frequency band no later than December 31, 2021.

To read the Act’s full text, click here.

If you have questions or need assistance, please contact your BKD Trusted Advisor™ or submit the Contact Us form below.

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