Low-income Americans soon will be able to receive subsidies to help pay for computers and home access to broadband. The External LinkEmergency Broadband Benefit Program (EBB Program), likely to launch in late April or early May, is something community leaders will want to be ready to inform residents about. Register now for an informative webinar, 10 a.m. (Central), April 28, co-hosted by the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City and the National Digital Inclusion Alliance.
In December, Congress passed the Consolidated Appropriations Act 2021. The Act established an Emergency Broadband Connectivity Fund of $3.2 billion to help Americans pay for internet service during the pandemic. In late February 2021, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) used the fund to begin the EBB Program. The program provides up to $50 a month ($75 a month for households on tribal lands) for internet subscriptions for qualifying households. It also provides one-time subsidies of up to $100 toward the purchase of a computer (desktop, laptop or tablet).
Qualifying households will need to know how and where to sign up. Community organizations, digital inclusion coalitions, libraries and schools are some of the groups best positioned to promote the EBB Program to qualifying households. As of the writing of this article, the FCC has not set aside funds for organizations that assist with outreach. Without outreach, qualifying households, especially those currently without internet service, may not learn about the program.
Below is an overview of the EBB Program as of March 30, 2021.
Who qualifies for the EBB Program?
In general, both lower-income households and households that have lost income are eligible. A household can receive one internet subscription and a discount on one computer if at least one member of the household meets any of the External Linkfollowing criteria:
- Experienced substantial, documented loss of income since Feb. 29, 2020, with a total 2020 household income below $99,000 for single filers or $198,000 for joint filers.
- Qualifies for the FCC’s External LinkLifeline program, which provides $9.25 a month toward phone or internet services for lower-income households ($34.25 for those living on tribal or native lands).
- Receives Medicaid or SNAP benefits.
- Is approved for free or reduced school lunch programs, including through the USDA’s Community Eligibility Provision.
- Received a Pell grant in the current award year.
- Qualifies for an internet service provider’s (ISP) existing low-income or COVID-19 relief program.
- If a household is on tribal lands, it is External Linkeligible if at least one person in the household participates in Bureau of Indian Affairs general assistance, tribally administered Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, Head Start (only those households meeting its income qualifying standard), or the Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations.
How much can a household receive for Internet?
Eligible households can receive up to $50 a month or $75 a month for those living on tribal lands. If the household gets a plan for less than the maximum benefit, they will receive the subscription for free while the EBB Program lasts. If they subscribe to a plan that’s more than the benefit, the household will pay the difference.
The service can be standalone broadband or a bundle of services including broadband, telephone, texting and the rental fee on the equipment that makes the service possible (like a modem). The subsidy goes directly to the ISP.
What about router and modem fees?
The $50 or $75 a month can be applied to fees ISPs charge for routers and modems.
What about the $100 for a computer?
Qualifying households can receive a one-time discount of up to $100 toward the purchase of a desktop, laptop or tablet (but not smartphones). Households must pay a one-time copayment of more than $10 but less than $50. While the devices must be purchased from an ISP, ISPs do not have to participate.
Can a household receive both the Lifeline and EBB Program benefit?
Yes. Households that qualify for both will receive both. The Lifeline program provides $9.25 a month ($34.25 a month on tribal lands) toward either internet service or a telephone subscription.
What if a household has a past-due internet bill?
Households with past-due internet bills still qualify for the EBB Program.
How fast will the internet be?
The federal government’s current minimum threshold to be considered “broadband” is 25 megabits per second download (Mbps) and 3 Mbps upload. Internet subscriptions below this minimum threshold, however, still qualify under the EBB Program.
How are payments made?
EBB Program payments will go directly to the participating ISPs from the Universal Service Administrative Company, which administers the program. Participating households only need to pay for any cost above what the program covers.
How long does the EBB Program last?
The program External Linkwill last until either the $3.2 billion is depleted, or until six months after the Department of Health and Human Services declares the end of the COVID-19 health emergency.
What happens when the program expires?
ISPs must provide a 30-day notice to consumers before the program ends. Subscribing households will have the option to end their subscriptions or to continue receiving internet at the ISP’s standard pricing.
Editor’s Note: This article will be updated when the government releases more information.