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FCC (and New York State) Offer Broadband Relief for Struggling Families

The US Federal Communications Commission has launched a new Emergency Broadband Benefit Program to help families struggling to pay for Internet service during the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2020, Congress established the $3.2 billion Emergency Broadband Connectivity Fund; the EBB Program will remain available until those funds are expended.

The EBB Program provides eligible households a discount of up to $50 per month toward broadband service ($75 per month for those living on Tribal lands) from participating providers. If you qualify, you can also get a one-time discount of up to $100 on a laptop, desktop, or tablet from a smaller set of participating providers, though you do need to co-pay between $10 and $50. We’re not sure what devices would be included, but it seems unlikely providers would offer anything from Apple given that the cheapest Apple product would be the $329 iPad.

Households qualify if they:

  • Have an income at or below 135% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines
  • Are enrolled in assistance programs like SNAP, Medicaid, or Lifeline
  • Received free or reduced-price school meals in the 2019–2020 or 2020–2021 school years
  • Received a Federal Pell Grant this year
  • Experienced a significant loss of income due to job loss or furlough since 29 February 2020 and had an income below $99,000 for single filers or $198,000 for joint filers
  • Meet the eligibility criteria for a participating provider’s existing low-income or COVID-19 relief program

You can apply through either a participating provider (which includes cellular companies) or the Universal Service Administrative Company. The USAC site says it’s experiencing high demand, so you may be better off contacting a local provider.

Emergency broadband high demand warning

New York Mandates Affordable Internet for Low-Income Households

The EBB Program will end when its $3.2 billion fund is exhausted, but the State of New York is going further with an even stronger law that requires Internet service providers operating in New York State to offer basic broadband service—at least 25 Mbps—to eligible low-income households for $15 per month. In areas like New York City, where speeds tend to be faster, the law caps the price of high-speed broadband over 200 Mbps at $20 per month. (The current average price is $50 per month.)

New York households qualify for this program if they are eligible for or receiving free or reduced-price lunch, supplemental nutrition assistance program benefits, Medicaid benefits, the senior citizen or disability rent increase exemptions, or an affordability benefit from a utility.

Additionally, funds from Schmidt Futures and the Ford Foundation will provide free Internet access to 50,000 students across the state for the 2021–2022 school year.

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