High-Speed Internet Subsidy for Low-Income Approved by FCC

High-Speed Internet Subsidy for Low-Income Approved by FCC
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A year in the middle of the pandemic, the federal government will begin offering qualifying low-income households internet bill discounts.

Several other American families may soon be able to breathe a sigh of relief from the rising price of internet access. A new government initiative aims to assist eligible households in getting online by offering monthly internet service credits as well as a device discount.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) decided on Feb. 25 to launch an immediate broadband incentive program that would help eligible low-income households subsidize the cost of internet service. The program will cost $3.2 billion and will open for enrollment in 60 days (by the end of April).

For the duration of the pandemic, the incentive program would provide eligible households with a $50 monthly credit on their internet bill. For all of those who live in tribal regions, the credit rises to $75 a month. A $100 discount on a mobile or laptop will be offered to all qualifying households.

Households can qualify for the broadband benefit program in a range of ways, including:

1. You currently participate in a low-income or pandemic relief program offered by an ISP 
2. You are a Lifeline subscriber 
3. You are on Medicaid
4. You accept SNAP benefits 
5. The kids in your household receive free or reduced-price lunch and/or school breakfast 
6. You are a Pell grant recipient 
7. You lost your job and have seen your income reduced in the last year 

Jessica Rosenworcel, Acting Chairwoman of the FCC, spoke about the importance of the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program.

“This is a service that would support those who are at risk of losing access to the internet. It will benefit those who are stuck in their cars in parking lots trying to find a Wi-Fi signal to get online for work. It will benefit those who are waiting outside the library with a laptop for a wireless signal to use for remote learning. It will assist those who are unsure whether to pay their internet bill, rent, or buy groceries.”

According to the FCC, this is the country's "largest-ever scheme" to assist low-income families in getting access to affordable internet.

This broadband subsidy policy is possibly long overdue for households that already lack affordable internet access. Thanks to the pandemic, millions of Americans have been forced to work and learn from home for nearly a year, making reliable home internet access more important than ever. However, up to 42 million Americans do not have access to the internet, with the bulk of these people unable to afford the cost of operation.

The digital divide is the difference between those who have an internet connection and can therefore completely engage in society and those who do not. For the rest of the pandemic, this broadband subsidy scheme is an effort to bridge the cost aspect of the digital divide. The only way to know if the discount is adequate or if the qualifications are broad enough for the program to actually make a difference is to wait and see.