The Federal Communications Commission said Thursday that households will be able to start applying for an emergency broadband benefit on May 12th.
The $ 3.2 billion emergency program offers a subsidy of up to $ 50 a month for low-income households and up to $ 75 a month for Indian-owned households to pay for broadband. The FCC will provide a one-time discount for poor households of up to $ 100 to purchase a computer or tablet.
Congress has ruled that the money will be available to households at or below the poverty line, those eligible for free and reduced lunch schools, or people who have suffered significant income losses since Feb. 29. 2020
“Families in every corner of the country are struggling to get online throughout this pandemic. For these families, we are now saying that help is near,” said FCC acting president Jessica Rosenzursel. “In less than two weeks, we will have a new way for unaffiliated Americans to have access to the Internet, to live their daily lives, to access the virtual classroom, to take advantage of telehealth and to seek new job opportunities. . “
The digital divide
The FCC estimates that at least 14.5 million homes do not have broadband access. There is a pandemicbetween people with and without high-speed internet access. For millions of Americans, the digital divide exists because they live in rural areas where broadband infrastructure is simply not available. For other families in rural and suburban markets, broadband services may be affordable but unaffordable. During the pandemic, students without internet services could not attend school. And adults who could not enter offices could not work remotely.
For years, politicians have been trying to resolve the digital divide. Although billions of dollars are spent each year to subsidize the cost of building new infrastructure and to offset the cost of services for poor Americans, the problem continues. It hasn’t helped that the FCC has been addressing these issues for years, using maps that don’t reflect exactly where broadband exists and where it doesn’t.
Congress and the FCC agree that the problem of broadband mapping needs to be addressed. At the FCC meeting in February, Rosenworcelto fulfill Congress’ mandate to improve FCC broadband maps.
The FCC moved quickly to trigger the program. The agencythe program administration plan. Earlier this month, it announced that more than 300 fixed and mobile internet providers had been approved to participate in the EBB program. Major vendors, such as AT&T, Comcast and Windstream Communications, were part of the initial group approved for the program.
What do carriers do?
Following the FCC’s announcement Thursday, AT&T and Verizon offered more details on how they will administer the program.
Verizon said the program is available to new and existing customers of Fios, 5G Home Internet, LTE Home Internet, Mobile Mix & Match Unlimited or Mobile Hotspot. Verizon said customers with Fios Forward, a program that helps eligible households save $ 20 a month on high-speed home fiber-based Internet service, will also be eligible for the subsidy.
If customers are already eligible for the FCC Lifeline Subsidy Program or if they are eligible for other federal programs, such as the National Lunch Program, the Pell Grant College Funding Program, or have lost their jobs or lost significant income during a pandemic, they could qualify for the program. To confirm the eligibility for a discount for an emergency broadband program, visit getemergencybroadband.org.
AT&T also announced that customers of its AT&T and Cricket Wireless services could receive a temporary subsidy, which could significantly reduce the cost of their Internet service. For example, qualifying new and existing customers for an AT&T Internet plan at speeds up to 300Mbps would cost $ 5 a month or less, the company said in a statement.
“The pandemic has proven that all Americans need reliable broadband connections for everything from applying for a job, working from home, and attending school,” AT&T Communications CEO Jeff McElfresh said in a statement. “We are ready to step up and work hand in hand with the federal government to provide relief to customers while helping to bridge the digital divide.”
AT&T said the benefits of EBB could be applied to “selecting cable and wireless broadband plans” for both new and existing customers. These selected plans include an AT&T Fiber plan for 1 GIG (Internet 1000). AT&T wireless customers will be able to use the subsidy for AT&T Unlimited Your Way, Unlimited Starter, Extra and Elite plans, all of which have 5G access included. Select AT&T prepaid and cricket plans will also qualify for the program, but AT&T does not specify which plans. Details will be available soon at att.com/EBB, the company said.
AT&T and Verizon have said they are committed to helping bridge the digital divide. AT&T advertises its AT&T Access program, which offers qualified households a cable internet service at discounted prices. The company also noted that it recently announced that it would invest $ 2 billion over the next three years through low-cost broadband and community investment proposals to help bridge the digital divide.
Verizon says it plans to invest $ 3 billion over the next five years in what it calls a “responsible business investment,” which includes more affordable broadband offerings.
“Responsible business is not philanthropy, it must be part of the core strategy,” said Hans Westberg, chairman and CEO of Verizon. “We are committed to building sustainable solutions for our key stakeholders and promoting access to mobility, broadband and cloud services for all.”
As part of that effort, Verizon announced on Friday a plan to support digital skills training in rural communities. The company is partnering with the National 4-H Council to offer digital skills training to adults in rural communities, with a specific focus on people of color. Working with nine historic black colleges and universities, all land-providing institutions, the program will certify teens in communities to provide training that is expected to empower 15,000 adults with basic digital skills needed for work, education, banking and healthcare. by the end of the year. This initiative is part of Verizon’s efforts to support digital inclusion in rural communities.
It all comes as the Biden administration doeswhich includes $ 100 billion in funding to bridge the digital divide. In addition to providing infrastructure to areas of the country that are underserved or underserved, Biden’s plan calls for more digital capital. Specifically, the president said the federal government would not provide subsidies for broadband forever and that more affordable offers should be offered to Americans who do not have enough to pay for the services.
Although the plan has not yet been finalized and defined, broadband providers are, such as prioritizing federal spending on government or nonprofit networks. The cable industry, in particular, opposes federal support for companies with a “sustainable” infrastructure, which many in the industry say is a hidden reference to favoring companies building fiber infrastructure. And all major providers oppose any hint of potentially regulating broadband prices.
Biden announced on Wednesday that he has appointed Vice President Kamala Harris to be in charge of the digital divide.is a sign that the White House sees broadband as a top priority.