FCC authorizes $50 discounts for low-income households’ internet bills

Wi-Fi is getting its largest upgrade in 20 years

The Federal Communications Commission voted unanimously on Thursday to adopt a program that provides emergency discounts of up to $50 per month toward broadband internet service for low-income households. The Emergency Broadband Benefit Program also provides up to $75 per month for households on Native American land and a one-time discount of up to $100 on a tablet or computer for those who qualify.

The $3.2 billion for the program was approved by Congress in December as part of a $900 billion coronavirus relief package. The subsidies are available to households that already participate in an internet provider’s low-income or pandemic relief program, subscribers to its Lifeline program, households with children receiving free or reduced-price meals at school, Pell Grant recipients, people on Medicaid or receiving SNAP benefits, and others who have lost their jobs over the past year, the commission said.

The FCC still has to set up a program to approve applicants for the program and to bring internet service providers on board, The New York Times reported.

The lack of consistent internet service across the US has been in the spotlight during the pandemic, as students in low-income areas struggled to participate in virtual classes. The FCC said last year that at least 18 million people in the US still don’t have reliable home internet connections, but the number is widely believed to be much higher; the FCC considers a ZIP code to have broadband if only one home in a census block actually has internet service.

“This is a program that will help those at risk of digital disconnection,” FCC acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said in a statement Thursday. “It will help those sitting in cars in parking lots just to catch a Wi-Fi signal to go online for work. It will help those lingering outside the library with a laptop just to get a wireless signal for remote learning.”

Rosenworcel said the program will be available within 60 days.

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