On Thursday, Feb. 25, the Federal Communications Commission unanimously voted to adopt a Report and Order that establishes the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program, a $3.2 billion federal initiative that will provide qualifying households discounts on their internet service bills.
“The Federal Communications Commission made history,” said FCC Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel when the order was approved. “It adopted rules for the nation’s largest-ever program to help households nationwide afford broadband service. This $3.2 billion program was designed to lower the cost of high-speed internet service for those struggling to get the connectivity they need during the ongoing pandemic. It’s a challenge that is all too real for too many families.”
This program was approved by Congress at the end of 2020 as a part of a larger coronavirus relief package and will provide emergency discounts of up to $50 per month toward broadband internet service for low-income households. Additional discounts are available for households on Native American land as well as for tablets or computers for those who qualify.
Last year, the FCC said that there were at least 18 million people in the U.S. without access to broadband, but this is still not an accurate number.
“This number wildly understates the extent of the digital divide in this country,” Rosenworcel said in her statement. “That’s because if a broadband provider tells the FCC that it can offer service to a single customer in a census block, the agency assumes that service is available throughout.”
This digital divide has only become more evident amidst the pandemic.
“This is a program that will help those at risk of digital disconnection. 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,” Rosenworcel said. “It will help those who worry about choosing between paying a broadband bill and paying rent or buying groceries. In short, this program can make a meaningful difference in the lives of people across the country.”
The commission said that these benefits are available to households that participate in an existing low-income or pandemic relief program offered by a broadband provider, Lifeline subscribers, households with kids receiving free or reduced-price meals at school, Pell Grant recipients, and those who have lost their jobs over the past year.
“The FCC’s staff are some of the most talented & dedicated public servants,” said FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr in a tweet on Monday. “FCC staff worked through holidays & weekends to make this happen in record time.”
The commission plans on this program being available within the next two months.
“Our work is already underway to get this program up and running,” Rosenworcel said. “I expect it to be open to eligible households within the next 60 days as providers sign up and program systems are put in place. I have confidence in our staff that we will do this carefully, swiftly, and the right way.”