Even the tech savvy among us are tired of video calls and email rather than in-person conversations, but let’s face it — we have made a shift in communication and we aren’t going back. My doctor routinely asks if I’d like a video appointment. We have apps for our favorite restaurants and are picking up food and eating at home. Center boards of directors have realized that video meetings provides equal access, and that the one or two who used to be in the background on a conference line are now full participants in the board meetings. Gaining access to vaccine appointments and necessary food have often been coordinated with on-line registration. Parents have learned that, like it or not, their children’s education also depends on broadband at least some of the time.
The CARES Act allowed centers to assist people with digital access to their services — remote Independent Living skills classes, face to face (peer support) calls, and as a bonus all the other digital access your community provides. CILs purchased or loaned tablets and laptops to consumers and were able to pay for some of their wireless bills. And CILs have realized that they can’t pay for this access long term, and something must be done to allow folks to continue to access their digital world. Centers who did not benefit from CARES Act and areas where their resources are spent are looking for other funding for consumers.
While it is not a complete answer to the digital divide, the FCC has announced an Emergency Broadband Benefit funded through the COVID-19 package passed in December. You can read the resulting announcement here. CILs can assist their consumers in knowing about and accessing this support, which is up to $50 a month, and $75 for households on qualifying Tribal lands. A one-time equipment discount of $100 is also available. There seems to be universal agreement that internet connectivity is essential these days. Let’s expand consumer knowledge about this new option.
This program is administered through local broadband providers, so individuals can go to their participating broadband provider directly and apply through them. Another choice is to go to GetEmergencyBroadband.org and apply there. It is also possible to visit fcc.gov/broadbandbenefit for a webinar that provides an overview, and to get other information. The ASL phone line is 844-432-2275
Your household qualifies for the Emergency Broadband Benefit if it has an income at or below 135% of the federal poverty guidelines OR any member of the household:
- 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.
Only one monthly service discount and one device discount is allowed per household. Program rules acknowledge there may be more than one eligible household residing at the same address.