The U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is launching a new federal emergency broadband subsidy for lower income households to help them bridge the digital gap. The combined $9.2 billion in funding for the program was allocated as a COVID-19 relief measure through the 2nd COVID relief bill passed in December and the American Rescue Plan passed in March. In this article, I’ll cover when and how to apply for the benefit, eligibility, and other key details.
Why is there a New Federal Broadband Subsidy?
It’s been estimated that tens of millions of Americans lack broadband access and many millions more cannot afford it, and in a modern society, high-speed internet access is an essential need. It’s even more critical during an ongoing pandemic where many are working or being educated from home. But, there are still 2 problems that need to be addressed:
This subsidy (and a smaller subsidy concurrently available through the Lifeline program) attempt to address the former, while some of the provisions in the current infrastructure proposal are an attempt to address the latter.
How Much is the FCC Broadband Subsidy?
The subsidy is up to a $50/month discount on your broadband service and associated equipment rentals (e.g. a modem) or up to a $75/month discount if your household is on qualifying Tribal lands.
Additionally, a one-time discount of up to $100 for a laptop, tablet, or desktop computer (with a co-payment of more than $10 but less than $50). A list of participating broadband providers for the subsidies can be found here.
The subsidy goes to the broadband provider and is automatically applied to your bill.
When & How to Get the New FCC Broadband Subsidy
Americans are eligible to apply for the subsidy starting May 12, 2021 at getemergencybroadband.org. The subsidy is not automatic and does require an application process to determine eligibility. Monthly subsidies will continue until the allocated funds are exhausted, or 6 months after the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) declares an end to the pandemic, whichever comes first.
Who is Eligible for the FCC Federal Broadband Subsidy?
- Qualifies for Lifeline benefits through participation in SNAP, Medicaid, Supplemental Security Income, Federal Public Housing Assistance, or Veterans and Survivors Pension Benefit;
- Participates in one of several Tribal specific programs: Bureau of Indian Affairs General Assistance, Tribal Head Start (only households meeting the relevant income qualifying standard), Tribal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (Tribal TANF), Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations;
- Experienced a substantial loss of income since February 29, 2020 with a total household income in 2020 at or below $99,000 for single filers and $198,000 for joint filers;
- Received a federal Pell Grant in the current award year;
- Received approval for benefits under the free and reduced-price school lunch program or the school breakfast program, including through the USDA Community Eligibility Provision, in the 2019-2020 or 2020-2021 school year; or
- Meets the eligibility criteria for a participating provider’s existing low-income or COVID-19 program, and that provider received FCC approval for its eligibility verification process.
Should you Apply for the Broadband Subsidy?
If you think you are eligible for the new broadband subsidy, based on the above criteria – absolutely. I don’t see any downsides outside of taking a few minutes to apply. You may also want to look into emergency rental assistance as it has a lot of the same eligibility criteria, and also could include assistance for other utilities.