Are Your Residents Eligible for the FCC’s Emergency Broadband Benefit?
High-speed Internet at home has become essential for school, work, and many other areas of life during the pandemic. Some of your households may be struggling to afford an Internet connection. In an April Pew Research survey of American parents with children attending school remotely, 36 percent 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. And in the same survey, 43 percent of lower-income parents said it is very or somewhat likely their children will have to do schoolwork on their cellphones.
To address this need, the COVID-19 relief bill passed in December included $3.2 billion to help low-income Americans pay for broadband service. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) recently voted unanimously to offer the Emergency Broadband Benefit program, which will make use of those funds earmarked in the relief bill to bridge the digital divide.
In a recent statement, Jessica Rosenworcel, the acting chairwoman of the FCC, stated, “No one should have to choose between paying their Internet bill or paying to put food on the table. With the help of the Emergency Broadband Benefit, we have a new way for households to access virtual learning, for patients to connect to telehealth providers, and for those struggling in this pandemic to learn new online skills and seek their next job.”
The Emergency Broadband Benefit will provide a discount of up to $50 per month towards broadband service for eligible households and up to $75 per month for households on Tribal lands. 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 to $50 toward the purchase price.
The Emergency Broadband Benefit is limited to one monthly service discount and one device discount per household.
A household is eligible if one member of the household:
- Qualifies for the Lifeline program, the FCC’s existing communications support program. The Lifeline program 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 2019–2020 school year;
- Received a federal Pell Grant during the current award year;
- Experienced a substantial loss of income since Feb. 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.
How Will It Work?
The program has been authorized by the FCC, but the start date hasn’t yet been set. The FCC is still determining the final details of the program, 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. This expands the pool of Internet companies nationwide that may participate in the Emergency Broadband 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 (www.usac.org), a nonprofit designated by the FCC to administer funding for broadband connectivity.