In the early days of the pandemic, viral stories on viral stories came out that showed the difference between those who do have internet access and those who do not. Little kids sat in fast-food parking lots in order to finish school quizzes and do work, wifi connections crapped out with multiple kids and working parents at home, and whole swathes of the country simply didn’t have access to computers, or internet, at all.
On Thursday, the FCC unanimously approved an emergency subsidy for low-income households to pay for high-speed internet service. It’s an overdue acknowledgment of the essential nature of the internet during the pandemic, when everything from judicial proceedings, to doctor’s visits, to work, to schooling, is happening online.
The $3.2 billion in funding for the Emergency Broadband Benefit was allocated in the last COVID relief bill, signed by President Trump at the end of 2020. The program will provide up to $50 a month for low-income households, $75 a month if they are located on Native American land.
Eligible recipients will include families with kids who get free or reduced price lunch, have received a federal Pell grant, have experienced a “substantial loss of income since February 29, 2020,” qualifies for the FCC’s existing Lifeline program, or “meets the eligibility criteria for a participating provider’s existing low-income or COVID-19 program.”
A one-time discount of up to $100 to purchase a computer or tablet will also be available, though families are, for some reason, required to contribute $10-$50 to the purchase price.
The FCC says that the program will be up in running in 60 days after it signs up internet service providers and creates a mechanism to approve and track subsidy recipients.
“This is a program that will help those at risk of digital disconnection,” acting FCC chair Jessica Rosenworcel said in a statement. “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.”