As millions of American workers, students, and patients stay home to help combat the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), the $2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act includes funding for the transition to remote life among its many relief provisions. With specific funding for broadband connections, distance learning, telehealth, and telework, the CARES Act recognizes the pressing need for people to remain connected during this public health crisis.

The CARES Act allocates funds specifically to help rural communities connect to broadband internet, including $100 million to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utility Service (RUS) for its Reconnect Pilot Program, which provides grants for the costs of construction, improvement, or acquisition of facilities and equipment needed to provide broadband service in eligible rural areas.

In addition to providing additional funding to connect underserved populations to the Internet, the legislation appropriates specific funding for remote education, healthcare, and work:

  • Provides the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) with $200 million to support efforts of health care providers to address COVID-19 by providing telecommunications services, information services, and devices necessary to enable the provision of telehealth services.
  • Increases RUS’s Distance Learning, Telemedicine, and Broadband Program funding by $25 million, allowing the agency to provide additional grants to support rural communities’ access to telecommunications-enabled information, audio, and video equipment.
  • Sets aside $180 million from the $127 billion increase in funding for the Department of Health and Human Services’ Public Health and Social Services Emergency Fund to expand services and capacity for rural hospitals, including telehealth.
  • Provides that its $13.5 billion in Education Stabilization Funding, allocated to the states by formula, may be used to improve the use of technology to support distance education.
  • Provides $2.15 billion to the Department of Veterans Affairs for information technology uses to support increased telework and telehealth, including the purchasing of devices and enhanced system bandwidth and support.
  • Increases funding to virtually all federal departments to provide operational support, including for transitioning to telework.

The CARES Act is expected to pass the House and be signed by the President this week, but some members of Congress are eying more government support for broadband in future legislation.

The House Democrats released their own version of a coronavirus stimulus bill earlier this week, which included $2 billion for an “Emergency Connectivity Fund” through the FCC’s E-Rate program to support the Commission’s provision of “Wi-fi hotspots and connected devices to schools and libraries” to enable distance learning—a provision Senate Democrats fought unsuccessfully to add to the CARES Act. The House bill also included $1 billion for an Emergency Broadband Connectivity Fund, which would allow the FCC to reimburse network carriers for the cost of providing broadband service to low-income households.

The House bill previews policies lawmakers may attempt to include in future recovery legislation. Indeed, several Senate Democrats expressed frustration that more funding for connectivity to close the “homework gap” and ensure low-income students have access to high-speed Internet was not included in the CARES Act, and they committed to supporting broadband funding in future COVID-19 relief packages.

For additional information on business considerations in response to the coronavirus outbreak, please see Covington’s COVID-19 Legal and Business Toolkit.

Photo of Holly Fechner Holly Fechner

Holly Fechner advises clients on complex public policy matters that combine legal and political opportunities and risks. She leads teams that represent companies, entities, and organizations in significant policy and regulatory matters before Congress and the Executive Branch.

She is a co-chair of…

Holly Fechner advises clients on complex public policy matters that combine legal and political opportunities and risks. She leads teams that represent companies, entities, and organizations in significant policy and regulatory matters before Congress and the Executive Branch.

She is a co-chair of the Covington’s Technology Industry Group and a member of the Covington Political Action Committee board of directors.

Holly works with clients to:

  • Develop compelling public policy strategies
  • Research law and draft legislation and policy
  • Draft testimony, comments, fact sheets, letters and other documents
  • Advocate before Congress and the Executive Branch
  • Form and manage coalitions
  • Develop communications strategies

She is the Executive Director of Invent Together and a visiting lecturer at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. She serves on the board of directors of the American Constitution Society.

Holly served as Policy Director for Senator Edward M. Kennedy (D-MA) and Chief Labor and Pensions Counsel for the Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee.

She received The American Lawyer, “Dealmaker of the Year” award. in 2019. The Hill named her a “Top Lobbyist” from 2013 to the present, and she has been ranked by Chambers USA – America’s Leading Business Lawyers from 2012 to the present.

Photo of Matthew Shapanka Matthew Shapanka

Matthew Shapanka draws on more than 15 years of experience from Capitol Hill, private practice, state government, and political campaigns to counsel clients significant legislative, regulatory, and enforcement matters. He develops and executes complex, multifaceted public policy initiatives for clients seeking actions by…

Matthew Shapanka draws on more than 15 years of experience from Capitol Hill, private practice, state government, and political campaigns to counsel clients significant legislative, regulatory, and enforcement matters. He develops and executes complex, multifaceted public policy initiatives for clients seeking actions by Congress, state legislatures, and federal and state government agencies, many with significant legal and political opportunities and risks. Matt also leads the firm’s state policy practice, advising clients on complex multistate legislative and regulatory policy matters and managing state advocacy efforts.

Matt rejoined Covington after serving as Chief Counsel for the U.S. Senate Committee on Rules and Administration, where he advised Chairwoman Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) on all legal, policy, and oversight matters before the Committee, including federal election and campaign finance law, Federal Election Commission nominations, and oversight of legislative branch agencies, U.S. Capitol security, and Senate rules and regulations. Most significantly, Matt led the Committee’s staff work on the Electoral Count Reform Act – a landmark bipartisan law enacted in 2022 to update the procedures for certifying and counting votes in presidential elections —and the Committee’s joint (with the Homeland Security Committee) bipartisan investigation into the security planning and response to the January 6, 2021 attack on the Capitol.

Both in Congress and at Covington, Matt has prepared dozens of corporate and nonprofit executives, academics, government officials, and presidential nominees for testimony at congressional committee hearings and depositions. He is also an experienced legislative drafter who has composed dozens of bills introduced in Congress and state legislatures, including several that have been enacted into law across multiple policy areas.

In addition to his policy work, Matt advises and represents clients on the full range of political law compliance and enforcement matters involving federal election, campaign finance, lobbying, and government ethics laws, the Securities and Exchange Commission’s “Pay-to-Play” rule, and the election and political laws of states and municipalities across the country.

Before law school, Matt worked in the administration of former Governor Deval Patrick (D-MA) as a research analyst in the Massachusetts Recovery & Reinvestment Office, where he worked on policy, communications, and compliance matters for federal economic recovery funding awarded to the state. He has also worked for federal, state, and local political candidates in Massachusetts and New Hampshire.