Tech

Internet discounts are coming, courtesy of the FCC

African teen girl wearing headphones study with internet chat skype teacher prepare for exam, black girl school student learning online, watch webinar make notes looking at laptop, distance education

$50

The maximum monthly discount available under the program.

FCC

Shutterstock

The pandemic has underscored the limitations of the U.S.’s internet infrastructure. On Thursday, the FCC voted to establish the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program. The initiative offers up internet bill discounts for qualifying households as well as potential savings on a computer or tablet.

The $3.2 billion initiative provides those eligible with up $50 off their broadband service each month and up to $75 for households on Tribal lands. Qualifying homes will also receive a one-time discount of up to $100 on a computer or tablet.

The money is part of $7 billion earmarked for broadband infrastructure in the last coronavirus relief bill, including ripping out perceived security threats ZTE and Huawei and actual resources like Tribal broadband grants, telehealth programs, rural broadband development, and connection bolstering efforts around HBCUs.

“This is a program that will help those at risk of digital disconnection,” said FCC’s Acting Chair Jessica Rosenworcel 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.”

Program systems are expected to be up and running within 60 days and those eligible will be able to benefit from the discounts shortly thereafter. Last year, the FCC conservatively clocked 18 million people who lack access to broadband internet. The fact that this is a massive problem has been made clearer by the move to remote work and education thanks to the pandemic and, more recently, the problems some people have faced signing up for vaccination appointments.

Here’s who’s eligible for the program:

  • Those already part of low-income or pandemic relief programs from internet providers
  • Lifeline subscribers (which includes those on Medicaid or S.N.A.P. benefits)
  • Homes where kids receive free or reduced-price school lunches and breakfasts
  • Pell grant recipients
  • People who have lost their jobs and / or have seen their income reduced in the last year

Internet for all — This program is a direct response to the pandemic, but some of these benefits may extend further in the future. Before President Joe Biden took office, it was anticipated that Rosenworcel would lead the FCC back towards Obama-era internet rules and make connective utility like water or electricity that all citizens should be able to affordably access.

Rural and Tribal infrastructure has long been an issue for broadband internet, but those in urban areas can also be priced out of internet plans, especially in areas lacking competition. Former FCC Chair Ajit Pai managed to briefly get internet providers to play nice at the pandemic’s onset. Business as usual has crept back, however, with AT&T abandoning rural communities and Comcast hitting customers with a data cap.

If the Biden administration can make good on its promises, it can connect more people to the internet while we wait for alternative connectivity solutions to come to fruition.