FCC announces billions in subsidies to provide broadband access in rural areas
About $9 billion in subsidies will be awarded to help bring broadband access to rural areas across the U.S., the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) said Monday.
Elon Musk’s SpaceX will receive nearly $886 million, one of the largest subsidies announced by the FCC, as the company pushes forward with its experimental Starlink project that aims to beam internet access to rural areas from a constellation of satellites in space.
The bulk of the subsidies, however, will be awarded to more traditional providers, including Charter Communications, LTD Broadband and the Rural Electric Cooperative Consortium. Each has received a little more than $1 billion. The subsidies will be distributed over the next 10 years.
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said in a statement the awards were the “single largest step ever taken to bridge the digital divide.”
The FCC estimates that about 21 million Americans don’t have access to high-speed internet. A BroadbandNow Research study published earlier this year states that number may be even higher, estimating that 42 million Americans don’t have the ability to purchase broadband internet.
The disparities in broadband access have only become more apparent since the coronavirus pandemic began, as school and work have shifted online for many people across the country.
If successful, SpaceX’s approach to deliver internet access from space could help bridge the gap. The FCC approved the program in 2018.
SpaceX reportedly has deployed nearly 1,000 satellites as part of the program and recently started public beta testing for the system, which it calls “Better than Nothing.” The nearly 1,000 satellites are just a fraction of the thousands the company plans to use in the constellation to provide broadband.
Starlink is “rapidly expanding to near global coverage” by 2021, according to the company’s website.
Democrats have been pushing for expanded broadband access.
House Democrats proposed as much as $100 billion in funding for their infrastructure package, and President-elect Joe Biden has called for universal internet access through either broadband or wireless 5G.