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Media, broadband groups push for additional funding in next stimulus bill

As Congress mulls over the need to pass another coronavirus relief package, telecommunications and media organizations are clamoring for additional funding.

U.S. President Donald Trump signed a $2.2 trillion coronavirus relief package, known as the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, or CARES Act, into law March 27 to provide financial assistance to workers and businesses across the U.S. While the bill provided money for public broadcasting, rural broadband and telehealth services, trade groups are urging Congress to add further funding support for local media and the broadband industry in any subsequent stimulus bill.

In an April 4 letter to colleagues, U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., wrote that "the acceleration of the coronavirus crisis demands that we continue to legislate." Specifically, she said Congress should pass a "CARES 2 package" that goes further in assisting American consumers and businesses.

On April 9, four national media organizations representing local newspapers and broadcast media outlets — the News Media Alliance, National Association of Broadcasters, National Newspaper Association and America's Newspapers — collectively called on Congress to provide support for local news media in its next stimulus bill.

One of the requests from the coalition is for Congress to ensure that local media can seek relief under the Paycheck Protection Program, a program established under the CARES Act. The program provides loans for small businesses affected by the coronavirus pandemic.

In a document detailing their request, the group wrote that while many local media and news organizations exist within larger business groups, they believe eligibility for local media to participate in the program should be determined at a local level, based on the makeup of the particular local outlet.

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Another request from the groups is for Congress to help fund federal advertising spending on local media. The groups specifically recommended that Congress provide the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the Small Business Administration and other relevant agencies with an additional $5 billion to $10 billion for direct funding for local media advertising.

The CARES Act provided $75 million for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting to maintain programming services. The money was specifically aimed at preserving small and rural public stations.

Another trade group, USTelecom — which represents the nation's broadband industry, including members such as AT&T Inc., Verizon Communications Inc. and CenturyLink Inc. — is also asking Congress for additional money.

In a March 27 letter to the U.S. Federal Communications Commission, USTelecom's president, Jonathan Spalter, asked the agency to either alter existing subsidy programs or create new stand-alone programs to improve connectivity and help employees at broadband companies "focus their energies" on maintaining and operating networks amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Congress should provide additional funding to enhance the FCC's existing budget while providing the Commission with the flexibility to use your expertise to meet basic connectivity objectives," wrote Spalter in his letter.

While Spalter wrote that the group appreciated the support the FCC received under the CARES Act, he said they are "hopeful that Congress will provide additional funding as necessary."

Under the CARES Act, the FCC received $200 million to support health care providers to provide telecommunications services, information services, and devices necessary to enable the provision of telehealth services.

Pelosi said she hopes the next stimulus package will be brought to the House floor later this month. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has said he believes the small-business Paycheck Protection Program needs more funding, but he has cautioned against another broader stimulus plan when the CARES Act has yet to be fully implemented. "Senate Republicans believe any potential further action will need to be tailored to the actual needs of our nation, not plucked off preexisting partisan wish lists," McConnell said April 7.