FCC to begin $50 broadband subsidy program May 12

FCC to begin $50 broadband subsidy program May 12

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FCC acting president Jessica Rosenversel has set a date for the agency’s emergency broadband benefits program to begin.

Bill Clarke / CQ Roll Call)

Americans affected by the coronavirus epidemic needing assistance to pay their broadband bills will soon get some help. The $ 50 a month broadband subsidy was promised as part of the Coronavirus Virus Relief Package that will be made available to low-income individuals by Congress in December, starting in two weeks.

On Thursday, the Federal Communications Commission announced that homeowners would be able to start applying for emergency broadband benefits on May 12.

The program, which pours into action money allocated to Congress in December as part of the COVID-19 relief bill, will provide $ 3.2 billion in emergency relief to subsidize broadband for millions of poor Americans affected by the coronavirus virus epidemic. The program offers subsidies of up to $ 50 a month to low-income families and up to $ 75 per month in homes on Native American land to pay for broadband service. The FCC will also offer one-time discounts to poor families of up to $ 100 to purchase a computer or tablet.

To qualify for the subsidy, Congress determined that the money would be available to families who are at or above 135 percent of the poverty line, who qualify for free and reduced school lunches, or people who There has been a substantial loss of income since February. 29, 2020.

“FCC chair Jessica Rosenversel said in a statement,” Families in every corner of the country are struggling to be online during this epidemic. “In less than two weeks, we will have a new way for disconnected Americans to use the Internet to complete their daily lives, so that they can access a virtual classroom, take advantage of telehealth, and employ. To explore new opportunities. “

digital divide

The FCC estimates that at least 14.5 million households do not have broadband access. The epidemic has highlighted disparities between those with and without access to high-speed Internet. For millions of Americans, the digital divide exists because they live in a rural part of the country where broadband infrastructure is simply not available. For other families in rural and suburban markets, broadband service may be available but ineffective. During the epidemic, students have not been able to go to school without internet service. And adults who cannot go to offices are unable to work remotely.

Policymakers have tried for years to solve the digital divide. Despite spending billions of dollars each year to reduce the cost of building new infrastructure and to compensate for the cost of service for poor Americans, the problem persists. It has not helped that the FCC has been using these problems for years using maps that do not indicate where broadband service exists and where it is not.

Congress and the FCC agree that the broadband mapping issue needs to be fixed. At the FCC’s February meeting, Rosenversel launched a task force to fulfill the congressional mandate to improve the FCC’s broadband map.

The FCC has moved quickly to get the program up and running. The agency voted unanimously in February to approve a plan to administer the program. Earlier this month, it announced that more than 300 fixed and mobile Internet providers were approved to participate in the EBB program. Large providers such as AT&T, Comcast and Windstream Communications were part of the initial group approved for the program.

What are the carriers doing

After the FCC’s announcement on Thursday, AT&T and Verizon on Friday offered more information about how they would manage the program.

Verizon said the program is available to new and existing Fios, 5G Home Internet, LTE Home Internet, Mobile Mix & Match Unlimited or Mobile Hotspot customers. Verizon said customers with FiOS Forward, a program that helps eligible families save $ 20 per month for high-speed fiber home Internet service, will also be able to receive subsidies.

If customers already qualify for the FCC’s Lifeline Subsidy Program, or if they qualify for other federal programs, such as the National School Lunch Program, the Pell Grant College Funding Program, or they have lost a job or have an epidemic. If there is significant income loss during the period, then they can. Eligible for the program. To confirm eligibility for the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program Waiver, visit getemergencybroadband.org.

AT&T also announced that customers of its AT&T and Cricket wireless services could receive temporary subsidies, which could significantly reduce the cost of their Internet service. For example, qualifying new and existing customers with speeds up to 300Mbps on the AT&T Internet plan would pay $ 5 a month or less, the company said in a press release.

“The epidemic proved that all Americans need a reliable broadband connection for everyone, from applying for jobs to working at home, to attending school,” AT&T Communications CEO Jeff McFreilash said in a statement. “We look forward to joining hands and working with the federal government to relieve customers while helping them cross the digital digital bridge.”

AT&T said the EBB benefit could be applied to both new and existing customers to “select wireline and wireless broadband service plans”. These select schemes include AT&T Fiber’s 1 GIG plan (Internet 1000). AT&T Wireless customers will be able to use the subsidy for AT&T Unlimited Your Way, Unlimited Starter, Extras and Elite Plans, including all 5G access. Select AT&T prepaid and cricket plans will also be eligible for the program, but AT&T did not state which plans. Details will be available on the company soon.

Beyond subsidy

AT&T and Verizon have stated that they are committed to helping shut down the digital divide. AT&T postponed its access to the AT&T program that provides wireline Internet service to eligible households at a discounted rate. The company also noted that it recently announced that it would invest $ 2 billion over the next three years through a low-cost broadband service offering and community investment to help close the digital divide.

Verizon says it plans to invest $ 3 billion over the next five years in what it calls a “responsible business investment”, including more affordable broadband offerings.

“Responsible business is not philanthropy, it should be part of the core strategy,” Verizon president and chief executive Hans Westberg said in a statement. “We are committed to creating sustainable solutions for our key stakeholders and access to mobility, broadband and cloud services for all.”

As part of the effort, Verizon on Friday announced plans to help bring digital skills training to rural communities. The company is partnering with the National 4-H Council to provide digital skills training to adults in rural communities, with a special focus on people of color. Working with nine historically black colleges and universities, all land-grant institutes, the program employs 15,000 adults to provide training to adolescents in communities with basic digital skills needed for education, banking, and healthcare Hope to empower. The year. This initiative is a part of Verizon’s efforts to support digital inclusion in rural communities.

Political pressure

All of this comes as the Biden administration is rolling out a $ 2 trillion infrastructure plan, including $ 100 billion to help bridge the digital divide. In addition to acquiring infrastructure for areas of the country that are unlicensed or ineligible, the Biden scheme also calls for more digital equity. He specifically stated that the federal government will not provide subsidies for broadband service forever and that there is a need to provide more affordable offerings for Americans who cannot afford the services.

While the plan has yet to be scrapped and defined, broadband providers are already emphasizing key aspects, such as prioritizing federal spending on government-run or nonprofit networks. The cable industry, in particular, opposes federal support for companies deploying “future-proof” infrastructure, which many in the industry believe is in favor of companies building fiber infrastructure Is the reference. And all large providers oppose any indication of possible price regulation on broadband.

Biden announced on Wednesday that he had engaged Vice President Kamala Harris in an effort to create a digital divide. The choice of Biden to put Harris in charge is a sign the White House sees broadband as a top priority.

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