Internet service is often expensive and offered without much competition, which does not provide much motivation for companies to make it more affordable. Having access in the Internet age is not a luxury but a necessity, and that has perhaps never been clearer than during the pandemic when millions of Americans were required to work from home and attend school via video conferencing. With that in mind, let us consider some of the options that are available to low-income Americans.
Emergency Broadband Benefit
The EBB is a new—and currently temporary—program aimed at helping Americans who have been or are still affected by the pandemic. The benefit is worth as much as $50 per month to most eligible Americans and as much as $75 for those who live on qualified tribal lands. Eligible citizens also have access to a one-time $100 benefit to put toward a computer or tablet. This is an FCC program but managed on the ground level by Internet Service Providers who opt in. This approach has allowed for quick rollout, but it has some drawbacks as well. Although unlikely, your ISP may not participate, and your ISP gets to determine which plans are suitable for the EBB. This has led some ISPs to force its customers into plans that cost less now due to the benefit but could cost more down the line.
Lifeline is also an FCC program, but this one is a fixed program that has been around prior to the pandemic. One account is permitted per eligible household and receives a $9.25 per month discount—or up to $34.25 if you live on a tribal land. The qualifications for Lifeline are similar to those for the EBB and include people who receive Supplement Security Income, Medicaid, Federal Public Housing Assistance, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance, Veterans Pension and Survivors Benefit and so forth.
Low-Income ISP Plans
Many ISPs offer plans for low-income families, and often, such plans are not advertised. Some of the major American ISPs that offer such options include Spectrum, AT&T and MetroNet. These plans usually range from $5 to $15 and generally—but not always—meet the FCC minimum for being classified as broadband internet service, which is currently 25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload. Note that you can apply Lifeline and/or the EBB, if applicable, to these programs as well. Some ISPs do advertise their low-income plans with Lifeline in mind and will help you register if you are not already.
State and Local Assistance
There are also numerous state and local programs aimed at helping low-income citizens afford Internet and pay for other bills. Often, the best way to discover these programs is to ask your ISP or the relevant company. They will have information for the various programs that you are eligible for based on your address and your income. You can also call your local social services office. They can tell you about these programs as well in addition to various grants and other assistance that may be available to you.
People who need the assistance may want to reexplore their options each month. The pandemic has drawn a great deal of attention to the need for affordable Internet access and the problems that can arise when families cannot afford it. Additional funding is becoming available at all levels of the government, and even more could become available if Congress passes the infrastructure bill.