The Acting Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission announced Monday a proposal to use $ 3.2 billion in emergency funding to significantly subsidize broadband service for millions of homes, an attempt to bridge the digital divide that has punished families low-income during the pandemic.
President Jessica Rosenworcel announced that under her proposal, qualifying households would receive $ 50 a month in discounts for high-speed Internet service. The discount would be $ 75 for homes on tribal land. Ms. Rosenworcel sent the proposal to the other three commissioners for a vote, but did not specify when that vote would take place for the program, which is called the Emergency Broadband Benefit.
Congress allocated the money last December as part of a Covid-19 relief bill. The money will be available to households at or 135 percent above the poverty line, those who qualify for free or reduced school lunches, or who have experienced a substantial loss of income since February 29, 2020.
At least 14.5 million households do not have high-speed Internet access. For many families, particularly in urban and suburban areas, the high cost of broadband has prevented them from acquiring the service. The consequences of the digital divide during the pandemic have been severe. Children have been deprived of online learning and adults have not been able to work from home or find vital health information.
“No one should have to choose between paying their internet bill or paying to put food on the table,” Rosenworcel said in a statement. “With the help of the Emergency Broadband Benefit, we have a new way for households to access virtual learning, for patients to connect with telehealth providers, and for those struggling with this pandemic to learn new skills online and look for your next job. “
The digital divide has been one of the most persistent problems for the federal government. Although more than $ 8 billion worth of federal subsidies are allocated to Internet service providers each year to bring broadband to every American household, adoption and access rates have improved by leaps and bounds. Broadband maps, for example, grossly overestimate how many households have access to the service. If an Internet service provider like Verizon or Comcast reaches only one home in a census block, the entire block appears connected on federal maps, even though not all households actually have a broadband option.
Last week, Rosenworcel announced a task force to study the agency’s tracking of broadband access data.