The Federal Communications Commission has approved a new broadband subsidy program designed to help families that have been struggling with the increased cost of internet access for schooling, work and other issues.
According to Brian Fung of CNN Business, “The agency’s $3.2 billion Emergency Broadband Benefit Program provides eligible low-income households with up to a $50 per month credit on their internet bills through their provider until the end of the pandemic.” For Indigenous people in remote tribal areas where internet access is often even harder to come by, that subsidy grows to $75 per month. The program also includes a $100 rebate for eligible households on the purchase of one computer or tablet.
“The congressionally created program is aimed at closing the digital divide, which has become painfully apparent over the past year as millions of Americans have been forced to work and learn remotely,” Fung reported. “Some have also raised concerns that the digital divide could affect access to the [COVID-19] vaccine as signups typically happen online.”
Lack of stable or available internet is an ongoing problem in many parts of rural America. The cost of access is also a hardship for many people living in lower-income urban areas. The FCC has estimated that as many as 21 million Americans lack high-speed internet but believe that number is much higher.
Jessica Rosenworcel, the FCC’s acting chairwoman, said that signups for the subsidies could begin within 60 days. The agency is currently working with internet providers to put rules and policies for the program in place.
“This is a program that will help those at risk of digital disconnection,” Rosenworcel said in a statement. “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.”
“Households eligible for the program include those who use food stamps, are on Medicaid or who have received a Pell grant,” Fung reported. “Also eligible are those who’ve lost their jobs during the pandemic.”