New program to make broadband more affordable

Staff Writer
Published: 5/16/2021 6:16:59 PM

A national program enabling eligible households to save up to $50 a month on their broadband bill went live Wednesday.

The Emergency Broadband Benefit is available to those who meet its parameters. Some of the qualifying conditions are if a household member makes 135% or below the federal poverty guidelines; receives a Pell Grant; participates in programs such as SNAP, Medicaid or the Lifeline program; is approved to receive free or reduced school lunch or free school breakfast; experienced a substantial loss of income due to job loss or furlough since Feb. 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; or meets the eligibility guidelines for a participating internet service provider’s low-income or COVID-19 program. More information can be found on the FCC’s website.

The program is voluntarily opted into by internet service providers, which the federal government reimburses. Verizon, Comcast (Xfinity), Charter (Spectrum) and Whip City Fiber have all agreed to participate in the program, and a full list of participating providers can be found at the FCC’s website. The benefit can apply to both landline and wireless broadband.

Unless someone’s broadband bill is less than $50 a month, the program will take $50 off that bill.

Free Press, a national nonprofit that focuses on media, journalism and internet issues, lobbied for the program. Chief Operating Officer Kimberly Longey also heads Plainfield’s municipal broadband department, which has 272 subscribers.

“Before the pandemic, there were more than 77 million Americans without access to broadband,” Longey said.

She noted this includes people who do not have physical access to broadband, as well as those who cannot afford it.

And she said that while the federal government has focused on physical access, “affordability is an equal part of the problem and the solution.”

Longey also said that Whip City Fiber, the internet service provider for Plainfield’s municipal broadband network, was quick to respond to her request that it participate in the program.

“When this program became available, we were really excited,” said Lisa Stowe, marketing, communications, community engagement and grants manager for Whip City Fiber and Westfield Gas + Electric. “We decided to move forward with it.”

Longey said that she’s not sure how many people will participate in the program in Plainfield, but based on those who participate in the Lifeline program in town, a permanent benefit for very low-income people that’s available nationwide, she thinks there will be at least 10 to 20 people who will be signing up. Lifeline participants are automatically eligible for the program and the benefits stack. 

“I think we will have demand,” she said.

Bera Dunau can be reached at bdunau@gazettenet.com.




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