Millions of low-income households and people who lost their jobs last year could soon receive a $ 50 monthly subsidy to help pay their internet bills. The Federal Communications Commission on Thursday approved a $ 3.2 billion plan to provide the aid to help more households pay for Internet access during the pandemic.
The program will be open to households already participating in a low-income or pandemic assistance program offered by broadband service, as well as to individuals already enrolled in the FCC Low-income Lifeline program. and households with children receiving free or reduced services. -Price of school meals. In addition, the program will be open to people who lost their jobs and saw their income reduced last year, the agency said.
Jessica Rosenworcel, Acting Chairman of the FCC, said in a statement that the program would be open to eligible households within the next 60 days.
The program’s eligibility guidelines could also open up the program to the 117 million households that lost income from work since March 13, when the pandemic shut down the economy, according to recent U.S. Census data. those households have seen hours cut without losing their jobs.
Experts say the potential pool of eligible families can quickly exceed program funding. Once the $ 3.2 billion is exhausted, the program will end, according to the National Alliance for Digital Inclusion, a group that advocates for broadband access.
“There are two things you need to know about this program: one is that it is very good and in place, and two, it is definitely not enough,” said Phillip Lovell, vice president of policy development and government relations at the Alliance for Excellent Education. a non-profit organization. which focuses on improving the educational outcomes of high school students.
A broadband access gap of $ 12 billion
The education group estimates that between $ 7 billion and $ 12 billion would be needed to provide broadband access to the millions of children who currently have no access, a problem that has been exacerbated during the pandemic as nearly all schools have switched to online instruction. Approximately 17 million children are unable to log into remote instruction due to the so-called “homework gap,” according to a July study by the Alliance for Excellent Education, the National Association for Indian Education, the National Urban League, and UnidosUS.
The FCC’s grant program is “a great victory for human rights,” said Dayton Young, director of products for Fight for the Future, a group that advocates for Internet access.
But, Young added, it represents “the minimum relief we should provide to people across the United States who are struggling with the impact of COVID-19. No one should have to make a decision between buying food and paying for internet access so their Children can attend classes online, and yet that is a decision that countless people have been forced to make in the last year. “
The FCC’s Rosenworcel said the program aims to help people who have had to sit in parking lots or outside a public library to pick up a Wi-Fi signal, as well as free up family budgets that have been squeezed by the economic shock. of the pandemic. An analysis of Internet bills by the Wall Street Journal found that the average bill for independent broadband service was about $ 66 a month.
The FCC program will also include a one-time $ 100 discount on a computer or tablet for eligible households. The discount for Internet service will be up to $ 75 per month for those who live on tribal lands.