Congress’ December Covid-19 relief bill included $3.2 billion to help low-income Americans pay for broadband service, as the country continues its push toward recovery from the health and economic crisis. Last week, the Federal Communications Commission officially established the Emergency Broadband Benefit program, which will make use of those funds.
The program will provide discounts of up to $50 a month, or $75 on Tribal lands, for broadband service for low-income households. It also includes a one-time discount of up to $100 for a laptop, desktop computer or tablet purchased from certain providers, which are yet to be named but are likely to include major wireless network operators, among others.
In an April Pew Research survey of American parents with children attending school remotely, 36% of low-income respondents said it was somewhat likely their children wouldn’t be able to finish schoolwork because they lacked an internet connection at home. In the same survey, 43% of lower-income parents said it is very or somewhat likely their children will have to do schoolwork on their cellphones.
While experts say long-term solutions will still be needed to fully close the digital divide, the Emergency Broadband Benefit program could make major inroads in the coming months, a crucial time for economic recovery.
“This is a program that will help those at risk of digital disconnection,” FCC Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said in a statement last month. “It will help those lingering outside the library with a laptop just to get a wireless signal for remote learning. It will help those who worry about choosing between paying a broadband bill and paying rent or buying groceries. This is good stuff.”
Registration for consumers are expected to begin next month. Here’s how to know if you’re eligible.
Households with at least one member who qualifies for the FCC’s existing communications support program, Lifeline, will be eligible for the emergency benefit. Lifeline serves low-income Americans, including those on Medicaid and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits.
Households whose children receive benefits under the free and reduced-price school lunch program or school breakfast program during the current or prior school year will also be eligible, as will federal Pell Grant recipients.
Households that suffered a substantial loss of income since February 29, 2020, will be eligible if their total household income for last year fell below $99,000 for single filers and $198,000 for joint filers. The FCC will also provide the benefit to households that meet eligibility criteria for another low-income or Covid-19 discount program from a participating provider.
How will it work?
The FCC is still nailing down final details of the program, including participating providers and an exact start date. But it has shared some information on how it will work.
The commission says that many types of broadband operators can qualify to provide service in this program, regardless of whether they participate in the existing Lifeline program. That could open the door for more internet companies nationwide to participate in the emergency benefit program.
Participating providers will be reimbursed through the program for delivering broadband services or devices to low-income households. The FCC is in the process of establishing the systems needed for providers to participate.
Once enrollment begins, eligible households can register for the program directly with participating broadband providers or with the Universal Service Administrative Company, a non-profit designated by the FCC to administer funding for broadband connectivity.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by WCT staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)