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FCC to Provide Internet, Discounts for Low-Income Households

The $3.2 billion Emergency Broadband Benefit Program will provide qualifying low-income households with a discount on their monthly bill and possible discounts toward the purchase of a computer.

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(TNS) — Residents grappling with the increasingly high costs of home Internet services may see some relief soon thanks to a new $3.2 billion federal program.

Established last week by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program will make use of funds provided through the COVID-19 relief bill established by Congress last December. The program will provide qualifying low-income households with a $50 discount on their monthly bill to help bridge the digital divide that has become even more pronounced since schools and many businesses were forced to rely on virtual communication in the wake of COVID-19. Eligible households can also receive a one-time discount of up to $100 to purchase a laptop, desktop computer, or tablet from participating providers if they contribute $10-$50 toward the purchase price.

The FCC intends to open the program up to qualifying applicants within 60 days. The Emergency Broadband Benefit will be limited to one monthly service discount and one device discount per household.

A household is eligible if one member:

  • Qualifies for the Lifeline program. Lifeline serves low-income Americans, including those on Medicaid and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits;
  • Receives benefits under the free and reduced-price school lunch program or the school breakfast program, including through the USDA Community Eligibility Provision, or did so in the 2019-20 school year;
  • Received a Federal Pell Grant during the current award year;
  • Experienced a substantial loss of income since February 29, 2020, and the household had a total income in 2020 below $99,000 for single filers and $198,000 for joint filers; or
  • Meets the eligibility criteria for a participating providers' existing low-income or COVID-19 program.
Eligible households will be able to 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.

The program is open to all broadband providers. Participating providers will receive reimbursement from the program for delivering qualifying broadband services or devices to eligible households.

More information on how to apply should be made available on the FCC's website, fcc.gov, in the coming weeks.

According to doxo, the online and mobile bill pay service, residents in New Bern pay $120 on average per month on cable/Internet, slightly above the national average of $115 per month.

In a statement, Jessica Rosenworcel, acting FCC chairwoman, said the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program was the nation's largest-ever effort to help households afford broadband service.

"It will help those sitting in cars in parking lots just to catch a Wi-Fi signal to go online for work. 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," she commented.

In addition to the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program, there are a number of other assistance programs and nonprofits working to make Internet access more accessible. The following options are suggested by broadbandnow.com.

Human I-T is a nonprofit that works in collaboration with Frontier Communications and their Affordable Broadband program. The Human-IT and Frontier collaboration provides affordable connections as well as a free Chromebook while supplies last. Residents can access affordable Internet by signing up at the Human-IT website.

PCs For People offers low-cost Internet to individuals with an income under 200% of the Federal Poverty Line or who are on income-based assistance programs. The service offers high-speed 4G LTE Internet service for as low as $10 per month, and is available nationwide. Details on plans and pricing are available here.

EveryoneOn is a resource for learning more about affordable Internet connections that works to create social and economic opportunity by connecting low-income families to affordable Internet service and computers. 

©2021 the Sun Journal, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.


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