What Does the New Coronavirus Aid Package Mean for the Tech Industry?


What Does the New Coronavirus Aid Package Mean for the Tech Industry?

The bill includes assistance to some industries, but also new draconian anti-piracy laws.

After months of negotiations, the leaders in both houses of Congress on Sunday reached an agreement on a coronavirus rescue package that will provide $600 checks to Americans.

The bill has not been voted on by either house of Congress as of Monday afternoon, and there are reportedly delays in the final composition of the bill, due to both printer delays and a corrupt file related to the bill’s education portion, Politico’s Jake Sherman said on Twitter. The text of the bill can be read here; at over 3,000 pages, it is one of the longest pieces of legislation in history.

Media reports have shared various news about what the new package offers when it comes to tech policy.

According to Axios, the bill includes $7 billion in funding for broadband infrastructure, including a new $3.2 billion Emergency Broadband Benefit, which offers $50 per month for broadband for low-income families. In addition, the bill offers $1.9 billion in order to “rip and replace” equipment from the Chinese manufacturers Huawei and ZTE.

With the pandemic moving entertainment online and putting movie theaters and live performance venues in danger, the package takes steps to assist such businesses. This includes, per a statement from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, “$15 billion in dedicated funding for live venues, independent movie theaters, and cultural institutions.”

Also part of the bill are controversial provisions related to copyrights and streaming. The package includes the CASE Act (Copyright Alternative in Small-Claims Enforcement Act), which critics say would make it easier for copyright holders to enforce draconian penalties against random Internet users.

“The CASE Act could mean Internet users facing $30,000 penalties for sharing a meme or making a video,” The Electronic Frontier Foundation said in a statement earlier this month. “It has no place in must pass legislation.”

Even more controversial is the inclusion of the Felony Streaming Act, pushed by Senator Thom Tillis of North Carolina, which will close a loophole to current rules which had treated downloading of copyright material as a felony but streaming as a “public performance.” The Act closes that loophole and treats both the same.

“This is atrocious. We’re facing a massive eviction crisis and millions are unemployed due to the pandemic, but Congressional leaders could only muster $600 stimulus checks for COVID relief, but managed to cram in handouts for content companies like Disney? The CASE Act is a terribly written law that will threaten ordinary Internet users with huge fines for everyday online activity. It’s absurd that lawmakers included these provisions in a must-pass spending bill,” Evan Greer, deputy director of activist organization Fight for the Future, said in a statement.

“We’ve seen time and time again that changes to copyright law have profound implications for online freedom of expression and human rights. These types of decisions should never be made in closed-door negotiations between politicians and industry or rushed through as part of some must-pass spending package.”

Stephen Silver, a technology writer for The National Interest, is a journalist, essayist and film critic, who is also a contributor to Philly Voice, Philadelphia Weekly, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Living Life Fearless, Backstage magazine, Broad Street Review and Splice Today. The co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle, Stephen lives in suburban Philadelphia with his wife and two sons. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenSilver.

Image: Reuters.