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Senate stimulus bill includes funds for rural broadband, broadcasters

The $1.8 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act as proposed in the Senate seeks to provide cash relief to individuals, as well as financial relief to distressed industries and small businesses. But tucked into the massive stimulus bill are a number of items that will help select television stations and broadband providers.

In particular, if the Senate bill is adopted, the U.S. Federal Communications Commission will receive $200 million to support health care providers to provide telecommunications services, information services, and devices necessary to enable the provision of telehealth services.

Telehealth primarily involves the remote delivery of healthcare including connecting emergency rooms to specialists in hospitals hundreds of miles away and providing basic consultations through technology such as a live video feed. Although telehealth is an emerging treatment option for the healthcare industry, the expansion of these healthcare services would not be possible without broadband connectivity.

The bill also calls for $75 million to be given to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting to maintain programming services. The money is specifically aimed at preserving small and rural public telecommunication stations.

Approximately $100 million is earmarked for grants to cover the construction, improvement, or acquisition of facilities and equipment needed to provide broadband service in eligible rural areas.

It remains unclear if the Senate and House of Representatives will adopt the coronavirus rescue package as is. A number of senators have threatened its advancement over concerns with its proposed increase to unemployment insurance. In the House, there was some pushback by Democrats and Republicans in the chamber on various measures in the legislation.

The film and TV industry is among the sectors hit hard by the impact of coronavirus, following nationwide closure of theaters and cancellation of major programming events.