WASHINGTON (AP) — The Biden administration is taking the first steps to release $45 billion to ensure that every U.S. resident has access to high-speed internet by roughly 2028, inviting governors and other leaders on Friday to start the application process.
Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo is overseeing the distribution and said that universal access to broadband internet would be akin to the electrification of rural America during the 1930s, a recognition that the internet is a utility needed for U.S. residents to function in today’s economy.
“There’s more than 30 million Americans who don’t have internet,” Raimondo said. “And in this day and age without high-speed internet, you can’t go to school, can’t go to the doctor, can’t do simple things. Think of how many times in a day you Google something or go online.”
The funding is part of the $65 billion for broadband in the $1 trillion infrastructure package that President Joe Biden signed into law last November. That bipartisan package is one of the policy achievements that the Democratic president is trying to sell to voters ahead of the midterm elections, though it’s unclear how much the message will resonate when much of the country is focused on high inflation, cultural differences and political identity.
Former President Donald Trump has dismissed the infrastructure spending as “fake” even though the broadband spending was one of his own priorities. His Agriculture Department said in 2020 that it had invested $744 million on rural internet connectivity, a sum that was meaningful yet insufficient.
Raimondo is traveling to Durham, North Carolina. She’ll announce that governors can send their letters of intent to receive the broadband money, which comes from three programs totaling $45 billion. Each state would then get $5 million to help it consult with residents and write its plan.
The Commerce Department recognizes that internet needs vary by state. The money could be used to lay fiber optic cable, build out Wi-Fi hotspots or even reduce monthly charges in places where price is the main challenge. After the administration’s announcement Monday that it would provide a $30 monthly subsidy to low-income households, Raimondo noted that states could use the additional money from these programs to make the service free to some users.
The allocations would also be influenced by the Federal Communications Commission this fall releasing new maps that detail where people lack internet service or are underserved. Governors and other leaders would then have six months to use this data to shape their final applications. States and eligible areas are guaranteed a minimum of $100 million, though the average payment would be closer to $800 million, according to rough estimates from the Commerce Department.
The goal is to have states lay out a five-year timeline to provide full internet access, while ensuring affordable internet access and promoting competition among providers. The federal government has not defined what qualifies as affordable, since that could be different around the country based on cost of living.
The commerce secretary said she seen the impact that universal internet availability could have on people in her travels.
She said she spoke to a widower in rural South Carolina whose late wife could only see a doctor regularly through telehealth, but they lacked a high-speed connection. Raimondo talked to a college student in Atlanta with a full-time job who had to drive back to campus for the internet to do her homework, leaving the student so exhausted that she fell asleep at the wheel and got into two auto crashes.
“You close the digital divide and close the opportunity divide,” Raimondo said, “and we actually fulfill the American promise of giving everybody a shot at a good job, an education and health care.”
Secret Service Recovers $286M in Stolen Pandemic Loans
WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. Secret Service said Friday that it has recovered $286 million in fraudulently obtained pandemic loans and is returning the money to the Small Business Administration.
The Secret Service said an investigation initiated by its Orlando office found that alleged conspirators submitted Economic Injury Disaster Loan applications by using fake or stolen employment and personal information and used an online bank, Green Dot, to conceal and move their criminal proceeds.
The agency worked with Green Dot to identify roughly 15,000 accounts and seize $286 million connected to the accounts.
“This forfeiture effort and those to come are a direct and necessary response to the unprecedented size and scope of pandemic relief fraud,” said Kevin Chambers, director for COVID-19 fraud enforcement at the Justice Department.
Billions have been fraudulently claimed through various pandemic relief programs — including Paycheck Protection Program loans, unemployment insurance and others that were rolled out in the midst of the worldwide pandemic that shutdown global economies for months.
In March, the Government Accountability Office reported that while agencies were able to distribute COVID-19 relief funds quickly, “the tradeoff was that they did not have systems in place to prevent and identify payment errors and fraud” due in part to “financial management weaknesses.”
As a result, the GAO has recommended several measures for agencies to prevent pandemic program fraud in the future, including better reporting on their fraud risk management efforts.
Since 2020, the Secret Service initiated more than 3,850 pandemic related fraud investigations, seized over $1.4 billion in fraudulently obtained funds and helped to return $2.3 billion to state unemployment insurance programs.
The latest seizure included a collaboration of efforts between Secret Service, the SBA’s Inspector General, DOJ and other offices.
Hannibal “Mike” Ware, the Small Business Administration’s inspector general, said the joint investigations will continue “to ensure that taxpayer dollars obtained through fraudulent means will be returned to taxpayers and fraudsters involved face justice.”
Addition Financial, UCF Extend Naming Rights Agreement for Arena
ORLANDO, Fla. (FNN SPORTS) – UCF has extended its naming rights partnership with Addition Financial Credit Union for an additional dozen years—in the process continuing to identify Addition Financial Arena on the UCF campus as the Knights’ home for men’s and women’s basketball games and a variety of other events.
The new agreement is a 12-year, $20 million partnership that follows up the original naming rights pact signed by UCF and Additional Financial in 2013. The new deal takes effect Jan. 1, 2023.
The UCF Board of Trustees approved the name at its meeting this morning, and the full deal is expected to be approved Aug. 25 by the UCF Athletics Association.
“We’ve had a partnership with Addition Financial for nearly a decade, and we’re excited that Kevin Miller and the Addition Financial Board have agreed to extend our relationship for an additional 12 years,” says UCF vice president and athletics director Terry Mohajir. “This is a great new venture with outstanding community partners.
“Resources will be paramount as we transition into the Big 12 Conference a year from now, and Addition Financial will play a key role for us as we invest more resources to enhance our education and athletics missions!”
In 2013, Addition Financial was named the Official Financial Institution of the UCF Knights and is the exclusive credit union for UCF Athletics. Since that time, Addition Financial has partnered with UCF Athletics to provide scholarships, financial education workshops and other sponsorship support. Addition Financial is also the home of the official UCF Knights debit cards, with designs featuring the new Knight head and the Citronaut.
“Addition Financial is proud to continue our longstanding partnership with UCF Athletics and to align with Orlando’s hometown teams. Knight Nation has truly inspired us along their journey to the Big 12, and we look forward to embarking on that journey alongside them as we extend our partnership,” said Kevin Miller, Addition Financial president and CEO.
The 10,000-seat Addition Financial Arena has been home to the UCF men’s and women’s basketball programs since the start of their 2007-08 seasons. Located in the heart of Knights Plaza on the north side of campus, the state-of-the-art facility opened in the fall of 2007 and also hosts premiere concerts along with UCF commencement ceremonies.
JetBlue Agrees to Buy Spirit for $3.8 Billion
NEW YORK, N.Y. (AP) — JetBlue has agreed to buy Spirit Airlines for $3.8 billion in a deal that would create the nation’s fifth largest airline if approved by U.S. regulators.
The agreement Thursday comes a day after Spirit’s attempt to merge with Frontier Airlines fell apart. Spirit had recommended its shareholders approve a lower offer from Frontier, saying that antitrust regulators are more likely to reject the bid from JetBlue.
“This combination is an exciting opportunity to diversify and expand our network, add jobs and new possibilities for crewmembers, and expand our platform for profitable growth.” JetBlue CEO Robin Hayes said in a statement.
The combined airline, which will be based in New York and led by Hayes, would have a fleet of 458 aircraft. The airlines will continue to operate independently until after the transaction closes.
JetBlue said Thursday that it would pay $33.50 per share in cash for Spirit, including a prepayment of $2.50 per share in cash payable once Spirit stockholders approve the transaction. There’s also a ticking fee of 10 cents per month starting in January 2023 through closing.
If the transaction is completed before December 2023, the deal will be for $33.50 per share, increasing over time to up to $34.15 per share, in the event the transaction closes at the outside date in July 2024.
If the deal doesn’t close due to antitrust reasons, JetBlue will pay Spirit a reverse break-up fee of $70 million and stockholders of Spirit a reverse break-up fee of $400 million less any amounts paid to stockholders of Spirit prior to termination.
News of the JetBlue and Spirit combination comes after weeks of Frontier and JetBlue tussling over who would ultimately get to add the budget airline to its arsenal. While Spirit initially struck a deal with Frontier and had stood by that proposed agreement, its shareholders were not on board. The decision by Spirit and Frontier to terminate their deal was announced Wednesday while Spirit shareholders were still voting on the proposal. It was apparent that despite the support of Spirit’s board, shareholders were prepared to reject the deal and seek a richer one from JetBlue.
JetBlue anticipates $600 million to $700 million in annual savings once the transaction is complete. Annual revenue for the combined company is anticipated to be about $11.9 billion, based on 2019 revenues.
JetBlue and Spirit will continue to operate independently until after the transaction closes. Their respective loyalty programs remain unchanged and customer accounts will not be affected in any way.
The deal still needs the required regulatory approvals and approval from Spirit’s stockholders. The companies expect to conclude the regulatory process and close the transaction no later than the first half of 2024.
Spirit’s stock rose more than 4% before the market open, while shares of JetBlue were up slightly.