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The government wants to cover high-speed internet for millions of low-income Americans.
The $3.2 billion Federal Communications Commission program, the Emergency Broadband Benefit, covers $50 per month for high-speed internet service for eligible households, with a $75 monthly discount for those in Native American tribal areas.
“High-speed internet service is vital for families to take advantage of today’s health, education and workplace opportunities,” Jessica Rosenworcel, acting chairwoman of the FCC, explained in an email.
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There program also offers a one-time $100 subsidy to help families buy a new laptop, desktop computer or tablet.
The FCC said Wednesday that eligible households may now apply for the program, available while funding lasts or until six months after the pandemic ends.
How to qualify
Households that qualify for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, Medicaid, Lifeline, Pell Grants or free and reduced school lunches may apply.
Those with a “substantial loss of income” from a job loss or reduced hours since Feb. 29, 2020, may also qualify.
There is an income limit, however. Single applicants may qualify with 2020 income at or below $99,000, and the cut-off for married couples is $198,000.
How to apply
Eligible households have three ways to apply for the program.
They may contact one of 825 broadband providers directly and apply through their preferred company.
Another choice is to apply online and select the sign-up option that matches their eligibility type.
Households may also call for a mail-in application. However, they may need to provide additional documents to verify eligibility.
Those with a past due internet bill or balance in collections may still be eligible, according to the program’s FAQ page.
Once approved, eligible households will receive an internet discount every month while funding lasts. Families may also apply the subsidy to monthly charges for rented equipment, such as routers or modems.
When the program expires, households must opt-in or request to keep using the services, covering the full cost of monthly internet on their own.
The ‘digital divide’
The pandemic has highlighted the “digital divide” — the millions without affordable internet access — in the U.S. as many shifted to virtual work and homeschooling.
Although 93% of American adults use the internet, only 75% have broadband access at home, according to a Pew Research report.
The gap is more prominent among households of color, however.
Only 71% of Black households have internet access at home, and the percentage drops to 65% for Hispanic families.
The disparity is even wider in Native American homes, with only 61% with access for those living in tribal areas, the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis reported.
Funded in December by the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021, the Emergency Broadband Benefit aims to help more Americans get connected to the internet during the pandemic.
“This program will have a tremendous, positive impact on so many American households,” Rosenworcel said. “It’s an investment in American families and a vote of confidence in the economic power of getting us all online.”
The FCC has also established the $7.2 billion Emergency Connectivity Fund Program, making it easier for schools and libraries to buy laptops, tablets, Wi-Fi hotspots and broadband internet access.