Unfortunately, the internet is not optional in the modern world. There is a real digital divide in the United States and millions of households lack access to a fast and reliable connection. The pandemic both illuminated and exacerbated the problem, which has prompted the Federal Communications Commission to take more proactive steps toward universal access. The latest initiative is called the Emergency Broadband Benefit and it provides discounted access as well as a stipend to spend on connected devices for low-income individuals.
What is the Emergency Broadband Benefit?
The Emergency Broadband Benefit (EBB) is a government-funded initiative offered by the FCC which provides support for broadband services and certain devices to help low-income households stay connected to virtual jobs, classrooms and healthcare during the pandemic.
Individuals that qualify for this temporary subsidy are eligible for a $50 monthly reduction in the cost of their broadband access. That discount goes up to $75 monthly for individuals living on tribal land. The program also grants qualified individuals up to $100 as a one-time credit to buy a laptop, desktop, or tablet in order to get connected.
Who qualifies for the Emergency Broadband Benefit?
- The pool of recipients covers a fairly wide range of people. Here are the basic requirements outlined by the FCC:
- Earns an income that is at or below 135% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines or participates in certain assistance programs, such as SNAP, Medicaid, or Lifeline;
- Approved to receive benefits under the free and reduced-price school lunch program or the school breakfast program, including through the USDA Community Eligibility Provision in the 2019-2020 or 2020-2021 school year;
- Received a Federal Pell Grant during the current award year;
- Experienced a substantial loss of income due to job loss or furlough since February 29, 2020 and the household had a total income in 2020 at or below $99,000 for single filers and $198,000 for joint filers; or
- Meets the eligibility criteria for a participating provider’s existing low-income or COVID-19 program.
How to apply?
The FCC has laid out three methods for applying for the program. If you already have service or know which local provider offers broadband in your area, you can contact them directly. Some providers already have programs in place specifically to provide services for low-income people. Xfinity, through its Internet Essentials program offers a reduced monthly rate of $9.95 for a 50/5 Mbps connection. That program, however, only applies to new customers who meet the criteria. The Emergency Broadband Benefit will help those who already have service and it expands the subject pool considerably.
Individuals that have access to the Internet in some way can visit https://getemergencybroadband.org/ to complete the necessary steps to apply. Of course, there are also non-connected ways to do so as well. Applicants can call 833-511-0311 to request a physical application which can be returned by mail.
The current Emergency Broadband Benefit is set to hand out roughly $3.2 billion in assistance, but it could be extended if circumstances make it necessary. I anticipate that demand will persist even as coronavirus cases subside and believe that funding is urgently needed to support the hybrid school and work environments that are likely to become more common as Americans begin to resume normal activities.
Willie E. Brake is a Computer Expert and Industry Analyst at All About Technology, a Certified Minority Business Enterprise and Microsoft Authorized Refurbisher, based in Detroit, Michigan.