Some relief may be on its way for those who need it soon. Federal regulators have decided to move forward with their plan called the Emergency Broadband Benefit to subsidize internet access for low income households to the tune of $3.2 billion dollars.
Their plan’s goal is to alleviate the lack of affordable internet service and help households struggling to pay for internet service due to the pandemic by providing up to $50 a month per qualifying household. In this plan it also includes households on tribal lands which if they qualify can get up to $75 a month and includes a one time discount of up to $100 to purchase a laptop, desktop computer or tablet from participating providers. To receive that one time discount, households have to qualify and contribute a minimum of $10-$50 towards the purchase price of the device.
The program isn’t for everyone; it’s reserved for those who are considered low income households. Your household may qualify if you fall under the following categories:
- Currently qualifies for the Lifeline program
- Currently receives benefits like free and reduced price school lunch program or the school breakfast program
- Received a Federal Pell Grant during the current award year
- Experienced a substantial loss of income since this time last year and the household had an income below $99,000 for single filers and $198,000 for joint filers in 2020.
- Meets the current eligibility criteria for your internet provider’s existing low income or COVID-19 program
They are currently working on the rules for how they will handle dispersing funds within 60 days. So far the FCC has said they plan on using the same nonprofit organization called the Universal Service Administrative Company that currently issues existing subsidies for phone and internet service.
At this time there’s no plan in place for what will happen when the funds run out or any relief for those who live in areas without internet service available. At that time the FCC will have to re approach congress, but the FCC is already looking into possible solutions to avoid what they call “bill shock” when the relief runs out including more long term solutions if the program ends.
While the relief is certainly welcomed by many, it’s just a very small and short sighted solution for a very large problem. The coronavirus has taught the nation three things: the internet is essential just as much as any other utility, the internet is expensive and the digital divide is a major problem that needs addressing now. The FCC acknowledged that the digital divide is real and very big, but in the past have been met with much criticism for downplaying the issue.
The plan is in progress so there’s no word of how or when anyone can apply for relief. The FCC has assured the public that they are working diligently to make the benefit available as quickly as they possibly can and will provide updates as they happen.
With schools and workplaces shut down due to the pandemic, 40% of low income households with children had to rely on public Wi-Fi because they didn’t have home internet service according to a Pew Research survey last year. 36% also said that their kids could not complete assignments because they did not have a computer.
These statistics may be a part of the driving force behind the program. With an update on how the plan is progressing last week, it was heavily hinted that the subsidy will prioritize households with children who are learning remotely.