FCC kicks off new 3.2B broadband program, offering up to $50 in monthly help for low-income families

FCC kicks off new 3.2B broadband program, offering up to $50 in monthly help for low-income families

Wednesday, May 12, marks the opening day for the Biden-era FCC’s first attempt to fix what Ajit Pai’s swamped up FCC tried to dismantle. The Emergency Broadband Benefit program (EBB) begins its open enrollment period, promising monthly discounts to eligible families for subsidized broadband services. The program will give low-income families and individuals up to $50 a month in emergency relief. Individuals and families that qualify and live on Native American land may receive up to $75 a month in broadband relief. The program also promises to provide a one-time up front payment of $100 towards the purchase of a “computer or tablet for eligible households.”

The program will be using $3.2 billion in emergency relief earmarked by Congress in the recent COVID-19 relief package that Republicans did everything in their power to contract and slow down. Like much of what the current administration is doing, this emergency broadband program is really just beginning to provide some of the government assistance that our country should have been providing well before the pandemic hit and threw everything into stark relief. That being said, it is a step forward in the work progressives have been doing for years to bridge the digital divide—the space between the haves and have nots in telecommunications access in our tech-forward country.

In the announcement of the emergency relief program, acting FCC Chair Jessica Rosenworcel said, “Families in every corner of the country have been struggling to get online throughout this pandemic. For those families, we now say help is around the corner. In less than two weeks, we will have a new way for disconnected Americans to access the internet to carry out their day-to-day life, so they can reach the virtual classroom, take advantage of telehealth, and seek new employment opportunities. I’m proud of the work we’ve done as an agency to get this program off the ground in record time.”

According to the FCC, your household needs to meet one of the criteria below:

Has 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 Feb. 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
Meets the eligibility criteria for a participating provider’s existing low-income or COVID-19 program

Families in every corner of the country have been struggling to get online throughout this pandemic. For those families, we now say help is around the corner.

— Acting FCC chair Jessica Rosenworcel

According to the FCC, at least 14.5 million homes are without access to broadband. But that number is likely low, as under former FCC Chair Ajit Pai, the FCC and government continued to use flawed broadband access maps. These are flawed maps that most everyone has known were flawed for some time. The slowly evolving maps in their most recent iteration still make broad assumptions of access in areas that remain underserved.

If even one home in a census block — the smallest geographic area used by the US Census Bureau — can get broadband service, the entire area is considered served. In rural areas, that home may be the only place with internet service for miles around. And the data only shows places service providers could provide broadband within 10 business days of a request, not areas that are actually connected. As of the 2010 census, there were 11.2 million census blocks in the US. By comparison, there are an estimated 150 million parcels — the way land is divided for taxes — in the country.

In February, Rosenworcel announced a new task force that would work to upgrade and improve the broadband maps in the hopes of getting a far clearer picture of what and where our broadband infrastructure needs work. “This is going to require an all hands effort at the agency with expertise from multiple bureaus and offices. To get this done, I have decided we need to use the same structure we used in another big effort at the agency, the first of its kind wireless incentive auction.” President Biden has not yet nominated someone to replace Republican Pai (who has recently gotten a nice job at a private equity firm that coincidentally has a portfolio of media and telecom companies that likely benefited from his deregulation policies). 

Those wondering if they qualify for the subsidy relief can go to getemergencybroadand.org.

From Daily Kos at Read More. This article is republished from DailyKos under an open content license. Read the original article at DailyKos.

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