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The Emergency Broadband Benefit Program: Government Assistance to Help Purchase a Device and Pay Internet Bills.

The Emergency Broadband Benefit Program helps low to moderate income families pay for both their high speed internet connections and it also gives financial assistance to pay for computers, tablets, smart phones, laptops or other connectivity devices. The EBB program is free to qualified households and the goal it to help students get free or affordable internet access for school or adults for work. Most cable and phone companies also provide additional assistance as well, in addition to the help from the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program. Learn more and find how to apply for EBB below.

Internet access is not presently considered a public utility in the United States, but a number of legislators and political commentators have called for it to be free or very affordable. In addition to being a powerful tool for free speech, it's also something that many people now depend on to navigate their daily life for both work, school and more. This is why the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program was created, to help customers get internet access, pay their high-speed internet bills, and the EBB assistance program will also help them pay for devices ranging from computers to laptops or Chromebooks and more.

Bills are paid online, affordable ride shares are arranged, jobs are searched and applied for, small businesses are run. Students and adults take online classes. Bus schedules and traffic flow are checked in real time, classes are taken and coupons for food and essentials are found.

The FCC has taken some steps to treat internet more like a necessary utility, and to help low-income households obtain high-speed access as part of the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program They are about to roll out an internet payment assistance program that can even help those in need to obtain a computer, smartphone or tablet.

The Emergency Broadband Benefit (EBB): Help With Getting (And Staying) Online

The FCC's Emergency Broadband Benefit has two components: one for those looking to buy a device to get on the internet with, and one for those looking for help paying a monthly internet bill. Eligible Americans can potentially receive both of these benefits, even including free devices or very internet connectivity.

 

 

 

The first component is a discount of up to $100 on a computer, tablet, Chromebook, laptop or phone purchased from a partner of the program. If you qualify based on income, the only other thing you need to do is put $10 to $50 of your own money toward the device. Those purchase limits are fairly strict, essentially limiting you to an overall purchase price of no more than $150. Or use that $150 from the Emergency Broadband Benefit to pay for a more costly device.

A good range of Android phones and tablets are available at that price, but a computer will be tougher to pull off. A basic Chromebook might make it to a price point of $150 or under, or a refurbished laptop might be an option if any partner vendors offer them. Only one device can be purchased per household.

The second component of the government funded EBB broadband benefit program will likely be more helpful to households struggling to maintain an internet connection. This is a discount of up to $50 per month on broadband internet service, or up to $75 per month for those on tribal lands. The Emergency Broadband Benefit can pay for cable internet service, wireless connections, satellite or other connectivity.

Who Is Eligible for the Emergency Broadband Benefit?

The FCC is making it fairly easy to qualify for this free government internet assistance program. If you are already enrolled in a number of other federal-level assistance programs, you are automatically eligible. For example, families on SNAP food stamps, TANF cash aid, Medicaid, Section 8 housing, SSI disability or other public aid will automatically qualify for financial help from the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program. But you will need to still contact your current internet provider, or find one who operates in your local community. But that isn't the only way to qualify.

 

 

 

 

Some of the telecommunications as well as cable providers that supply the devices and internet service are running their own low-income assistance programs, including some that provide special assistance during the Covid-19 pandemic. Being a part of one of these programs may also automatically qualify you for the FCC assistance.

The final option is for those who have experienced a "substantial loss of income" during the Covid-19 pandemic. If your household income is under $99,000 for single filers or $198,000 for joint filers, and you have seen a reduction to your income since February 29 2020 (for example due to reduced work hours or a layoff / job loss), that by itself may qualify you without having to be part of any other assistance programs.

What federal programs automatically qualify you for the FCC assistance? The primary one is the Lifeline program, which already provides a small monthly discount for wired or wireless phone service. The Emergency Broadband Benefit is essentially an extension of this program to cover internet access. Find more on telephone bill assistance programs by state near you.

Qualification for Lifeline is fairly simple; you either need to have an income that is no greater than 135% of the current federal poverty line, or already be enrolled in certain other federal assistance programs (SNAP, Medicaid, Federal Public Housing Assistance, Supplemental Security Income, the Veterans and Survivors Pension Benefit, or certain Tribal Programs).

You aren't required to go through Lifeline for this benefit, however. You may also qualify if you have participated in free and reduced-price school breakfast or lunch programs since the 2019-2020 school year, or have received a Federal Pell Grant during the current academic year.

How Do You Get Into the Program?

Call your local or a national phone, cable, or satellite TV provider – they will all provide assistance from the public aid will automatically qualify for financial help from the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program. The federal government FCC agency is currently enrolling local partners to provide the discounted internet service and the devices. It appears that you will purchase your device or service through these local providers, and the FCC will apply your discount to the transaction.

The agency has a list of its current partners at the website and it appears that you can expect about 10 to 30 per state that offer this free broadband benefit to the low income. Providers include most of the usual big names in cable as well as wireless services (AT&T, Boost, Charter, Comcast, DISH, T-Mobile, Verizon).

The group PCs For People appears to be participating in many states and territories, and may serve as the best option for those looking to get a computer through the Emergency Broadband Benefit (EBB) Program. The group offers some very basic refurbished laptops or desktops that can come in at under $100. It is possible to order computers from them online, though the local retail stores appear to usually have more of a selection.

 

 

 

 

The cost of broadband internet access can vary greatly based on where you live, usually ranging from around $35 to $100 per month. Statistics indicate that the average monthly internet bill throughout the country is about $61 per month, so unless you live in an unusually expensive area the FCC's Emergency Broadband Benefit Program is likely to provide you with either free internet or a bill of only a few dollars a month. That's a big help to those struggling to keep ahead of the bills, but who need internet access for vital services and finding sources of income.

By Jon McNamara

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