Despite how important internet access is in the modern world, many families go without simply because they cannot afford it. There are, however, Internet service plans aimed at low-income families in addition to government assistance programs that can help further.
The Emergency Broadband Benefit
The EBB is a relatively new program from the Federal Communication Commission. The availability gap in the United States has been a problem for a while now, but the issues became more apparent during pandemic lockdowns when many people needed Internet access for work and school. Currently, the EBB has finite funds and will only last as long as the pandemic is recognized as a public health emergency.
The resource pool was seeded with $3.2 billion. Most eligible homes receive up to a $50 per month benefit. Eligible homes on tribal lands receive up to $75 per month. Participants are also eligible for a one-time benefit of $100 that can be used toward a computer, tablet or other device.
How to Get the EBB
The EBB is facilitated through the internet service providers themselves. ISPs can choose to participate or not, and they have a great deal of power over how the program is managed. Although not ideal, this was seen as a necessary measure in order to implement the program as quickly as possible. If you currently have internet service, contact your ISP and let them know you are interested. They will help you determine if you are eligible and apply it automatically if you are. The EBB may be applied to your current plan, but be aware that some ISPs are limiting which plans the benefit applies to.
Lifeline is a permanent program that was in place prior to the pandemic. However, it is worth noting that the rules regarding the program have been relaxed, and those relaxed rules will remain in place until the government no longer recognizes the pandemic as a public health emergency. Lifeline currently provides only $9.25 a month, which is why many people who are eligible do not even bother. Still, every little bit helps, and you can combine it with the EBB while that program is active.
How to Get Lifeline
There are a number of federal assistance programs that make you automatically eligible for Lifeline. These include Federal Public Housing Assistance, Medicaid, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, Supplemental Security Income and Veterans Pension and Survivors Benefit. If you are a participant in one of these programs, you can apply through the website or by telephone. You can also apply based solely on your income, but that application process is a bit more involved since you have to prove your income.
You should also be aware that certain internet providers have special plans specifically for low-income people. These include AT&T and Spectrum. Simply call the ISPs available in your area and ask them about their low-income options. These ISPs will often work with you base on your budget and available benefits. Be mindful that some ISPs are gravitating customers towards plans that are covered mostly by the EBB. That plan may cost you nothing now but could problematic when the EBB ends.
The federal government recognizes the issue of the availability gap now more than ever. As it stands now, the EBB likely will not become permanent. However, a very real possibility is that the Lifeline benefits are increased and that the eligibility requirements are broadened.