The Federal Communications Commission today opened enrollment for $50-per-month broadband subsidies for US residents who have low incomes or who lost income during the pandemic. Over 825 Internet service providers across the US are participating in the program, with the full list of ISPs in each state and territory available here. All the biggest ISPs and hundreds of smaller ones are participating, so the subsidies should be available in most areas with home Internet access.
Cable, fiber-to-the-home, DSL, and fixed wireless ISPs are among the home-Internet services included in the program. The subsidies aren’t just for home Internet, as many mobile providers are participating in the program as well. To enroll, go to getemergencybroadband.org and click on “Apply Now.” I received error messages when clicking the link today, but other people said it was working, so hopefully everyone who needs it will be able to get through without much trouble.
Update at 2:40pm ET: The FCC acknowledged that it’s having some trouble handling the high number of people trying to sign up for broadband subsidies, but said it is working on a fix. “We have witnessed a high level of demand in the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program, which demonstrates how critical this program is for families struggling to afford Internet service during the pandemic,” an FCC spokesperson told Ars. “We are actively working to resolve any issues users encounter and increasing resources to meet the demand. This high level of interest is evidence that Internet service is critical and for far too many is out of reach and why we need programs like this.”
Congress approved the subsidy program in December, providing $3.2 billion. “This pandemic-related program will continue until the $3.2 billion in federal funding runs out or six months after the Department of Health and Human Services declares an end to the pandemic,” the FCC said today. “Eligible households will be able to receive on their broadband bill a discount of up to $50 per month, or $75 on qualifying Tribal lands. They will also be eligible for 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.”
How to qualify
There are a half-dozen or so ways to qualify for the subsidy. Households with incomes at or below 135 percent of federal poverty guidelines qualify, as do people who suffered a substantial loss of income since the pandemic began. All the ways in which households can qualify are listed at the program’s official website and in this Ars article published two weeks ago. There is also a page listing documents that people who apply may need to provide.
“This program will have a tremendous, positive impact on so many American households,” Acting FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said today. “It’s an investment in American families and a vote of confidence in the economic power of getting us all online. High-speed Internet service is vital for families to take advantage of today’s health, education, and workplace opportunities. And the discount for laptops and desktop computers will continue to have positive impact even after this temporary discount program wraps up.”
More detailed instructions for applying are available here. Besides the online tool, it is also possible to apply via postal mail or by contacting broadband providers participating in the program. The FCC posted a “Companies Near Me” tool to help people identify nearby ISPs.
Update on $7B fund for schools and libraries
The FCC is also moving closer to implementing a separate $7.17 billion emergency fund that Congress approved for schools and libraries. The FCC approved rules for the program yesterday, saying that the fund “will enable schools and libraries to purchase laptop and tablet computers, Wi-Fi hotspots, and broadband connectivity for students, school staff, and library patrons in need during the COVID-19 pandemic.”
The FCC said it has “adopt[ed] an application process that first provides funding to schools and libraries for purchases during the coming school year of eligible equipment and services for use by students, school staff, and library patrons who would otherwise lack access to eligible equipment or services sufficient to engage in remote learning and virtual library services.” During this first round of applications, schools and libraries “will be able to submit requests for funding for purchases made between July 1, 2021 and June 30, 2022.” If there is money left over, the FCC said it will open a second round of applications to reimburse schools and libraries for similar purchases “made from March 1, 2020 to June 30, 2021.”