White House seeks funds for internet subsidies, Chinese equipment removal

FILE PHOTO: Fiber optic cables carrying internet providers are seen running into a server room at Intergate.Manhattan, a data center owned and developed by Sabey Data Center Properties, during a tour of the facility in lower Manhattan, in New York

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The White House is asking Congress for $6 billion for a government broadband internet subsidy program used by 21 million American households that is set to run out of money next year.

The Biden administration also wants $3.1 billion to further fund removal of equipment made by Chinese telecoms giants Huawei and ZTE from U.S. telecom networks.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) previously said removing the equipment, which it says poses national security risks, would cost $4.98 billion. Congress has only approved $1.9 billion. In 2019, Congress told the FCC to require U.S. telecoms carriers that receive federal subsidies to purge their networks of Chinese telecoms equipment.

Congress previously allocated $17 billion to help lower-income families and people impacted by COVID-19 to gain internet access through a $30 per month voucher to use toward paying for internet service.

The White House says the program known as the Affordable Connectivity Program, helps current users save over $500 million per month on their internet bills. The $6 billion in additional government funding would extend the program through December 2024.

"Congress should act swiftly to fund the Affordable Connectivity Program and prevent more than 21 million households from losing access to affordable, high-speed internet," said White House National Economic Council director Lael Brainard.

Internet service providers say there are about 27 million additional U.S. households that are eligible but are not yet enrolled.

Verizon, Comcast and AT&T have all called for Congress to extend the program that could run out of money by March.

(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)