By Ryan Tracy
The coronavirus relief package headed for a House vote Friday dedicates millions of dollars to help schools and hospitals reach students and patients via the internet, but doesn't include the big-ticket broadband investment some lawmakers and industry lobbyists were seeking.
The draft bill dedicates about $30.75 billion for schools and colleges to respond to the virus, which could include everything from providing meals to buying devices for students to learn from home. The Department of Education would distribute the funds.
Some advocates had been hoping Congress would appropriate billions of dollars for Federal Communications Commission programs to help schools and low-income people get online, or to extend Internet access in rural areas.
The FCC would get a $200 million appropriation to respond to the virus, which it would have to spend at least in part on supporting healthcare providers who are boosting the use of telehealth services.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture would receive $100 million in grant funding designed to expand broadband access in rural areas, as well as $25 million in grants for telemedicine and distance learning in rural areas. The Secretary of Veterans Affairs would get authority to contract with telecom companies to provide mental health services for isolated veterans.