The Emergency Broadband Benefit Program
Sixteen million students were left offline at the start of the pandemic, but we're closer to connecting them than ever before. Families who need help paying for the internet at home now can get help thanks to a program approved by Congress in December. On May 12, the Federal Communications Commission began accepting applications for a brand-new Emergency Broadband Benefit program that directly supports households struggling to pay their internet bills and stay connected to critical online learning, health care, and government services.
The rapid shift to virtual classrooms last year shined a bright light on what educators and families had known for a long time: Access to the internet is essential for life and for learning. Common Sense has been urging lawmakers to connect all students and to close the digital divide now and for good. Hundreds of educators, parents, and students from around the country shared their experiences with us about the challenges associated with navigating remote learning. Unaffordable plans, unreliable internet service, limited devices, and missing tech support often meant that far too many students were falling behind despite tireless efforts of educators and families to keep students engaged in remote learning.
With support from parents and educators, we worked closely with policymakers to ensure that the federal government would finally provide dedicated emergency funding to help families overcome the digital divide during the pandemic. There is more help coming later this year through the Emergency Connectivity Fund to help close the digital divide for students and teachers: more than $7 billion that Common Sense helped to secure in the American Rescue Plan. But starting right now, there is a new monthly benefit to help families stay connected.
Here's how the $3.2 billion Emergency Broadband Benefit program works:
Beginning May 12, 2021, eligible households can receive $50 in assistance per month ($75 per month for households on tribal lands) to use for monthly home internet service. Eligible households also can receive a one-time $100 benefit for devices such as laptops and tablets. This is a short-term program designed to help individuals, students, and families stay connected to the internet during the coronavirus pandemic.
This is a program that includes families and students but isn't limited to households with school-aged children.
Eligible households can qualify through multiple routes: proof of financial hardship, receiving a Pell grant, receiving free or reduced-price breakfast or lunch, participation in an existing low-cost internet service plan, having an income at or below 135% of the federal poverty guidelines (currently calculated at $17,388 per year), participation in a tribal-specific federal assistance program (on tribal lands), or participation in one of the following programs: Lifeline, Medicaid, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Supplemental Security Income (SSI), federal Public Housing Assistance (PHA), Veterans Pension program, or VA Survivors Pension.
For more information about the program, check our Emergency Broadband Benefit page, where we're compiling information to support outreach and sign-up.
We're proud of our work to secure billions in emergency relief for families in the digital divide, but our work is not done. To ensure that every family has equitable access to the devices and broadband service capable of meeting their essential needs, we must close the digital divide for good. The federal government will need to invest in universal "future-proof" broadband networks going to every home and business in the country and commit to a permanent digital inclusion program to track and address the persistent barriers related to broadband adoption including training, the costs of home broadband service, and the costs of devices. Both the Biden administration's American Jobs Plan and the Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act from Representative Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) and Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) propose significant investments in broadband that could help finally close the digital divide. Are you a parent, caregiver, or teacher struggling with the homework gap? Share your story—your voice is essential to getting this done.
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