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Many Americans can now apply for help paying internet bills. Here’s what to know.

  • Author: Bailey Aldridge, The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.)
  • Updated: May 12
  • Published May 12

Applications are now open for a federal program that offers help paying internet bills during the pandemic.

The Federal Communications Commission’s Emergency Broadband Benefit program provides discounts on broadband services to eligible households. Here’s what to know and how to apply.

What is the EBB program?

The program provides up to $50 per month toward internet services for eligible households and up to $75 per month for “households on qualifying Tribal lands.”

“Eligible households can also receive a one-time discount of up to $100 to purchase a laptop, desktop computer, or tablet from participating providers if they contribute more than $10 and less than $50 toward the purchase price,” the FCC says.

The program provides one monthly discount and one device discount per household.

Who is eligible?

Households are eligible for the program if any members meet one of these criteria:

• An income at or below 135% of the federal poverty line. Information on those guidelines can be found here.

• Participation in “certain assistance programs,” including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, Medicaid or Lifeline.

• They are “approved to receive benefits under the free and reduced-price school lunch program or the school breakfast program” during the 2019-2020 or 2020-2021 school years.

• They have received a federal Pell Grant in the “current award year.”

• They’ve had “a substantial loss of income” because they lost a job or were furloughed since February 29, 2020, and the household had a “total income in 2020 at or below $99,000 for single filers and $198,000 for joint filers.”

• They meet “eligibility criteria for a participating providers’ existing low-income or COVID-19 program.”

How to apply

Applicants can call their participating broadband provider to learn about their application process, the FCC says.

They can also find participating providers, check their eligibility and apply online here or call 833-511-0311 for a mail-in application.

Mail-in applications will need to be returned, along with copies of documents proving eligibility, to the Emergency Broadband Support Center at P.O. Box 7081, London, KY 40742.

A list of the documentation applicants will need can be found here.

“After receiving an eligibility determination, households can contact their preferred service provider to select an Emergency Broadband Benefit eligible service plan,” the FCC says.

How it works

Recipients of the discount will not receive funds directly. The discount will be applied to their broadband service automatically.

“The participating broadband service provider will receive the funds directly from the Emergency Broadband Benefit program,” the FCC says.

Multiple providers will be participating in the program, the FCC says, and some recipients may have a choice between providers depending on how many are available in their area.

A list ofparticipating internet companies can be found here.

The program will continue running until its funding runs out or until six months after the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services “declares an end to the COVID-19 health emergency, whichever is sooner.”

Why it matters

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced many people to work or attend school from home, requiring better access to reliable internet than before.

But, as of April 2020, 3.7 million households with children have internet access available only “sometimes, rarely, or never,” according to a USA Facts analysis of data from the U.S. Census Bureau.

USA Facts also found that “access varies by race.”

“For both internet and computers, white and Asian children have higher than average access, whereas Black, Hispanic, and American Indian and Native Alaskan children have lower than average access,” it says.

How the program is funded

The Consolidated Appropriations Act was passed in December 2020 and created a $3.2 billion Emergency Broadband Connectivity Fund to held Americans “afford internet service during the pandemic.”

“The Act directed the Federal Communications Commission to use the fund to establish an Emergency Broadband Benefit Program (EBB Program),” the FCC says.