FCC rolls out financial assistance program to correct disparities in internet access

“As the COVID-19 pandemic has made clear, having high-speed internet access at home isn’t a luxury, but a necessity so that people have access to critical services such as remote learning and telemedicine and maintain the ability to stay in contact with family and friends during a difficult and isolating time." -  Michigan Public Service Commissioner Tremaine Phillips

Eligible Michiganders can receive financial help to pay for home broadband connections and internet-enabled devices, thanks to an Emergency Broadband Benefit program being rolled out by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). This program is designed to help Michigan residents who meet income eligibility requirements, or have been financially impacted by COVID-19. 

 

The Emergency Broadband Benefit program was recently approved by federal lawmakers for the amount of $3.2 billion. Eligible consumers can receive a monthly $50 discount on their broadband bill, or $75 a month for eligible consumers living on tribal lands. 

 

Many Michigan residents who currently receive assistance benefits through MDHHS will be eligible for this program.

 

“A broadband connection makes it easier for them to access the benefits and services that they need to stay healthy, put food on the table and find work to support their families,” said Lewis Roubal, MDHHS chief deputy director for opportunity, in a press release.

 

The program also provides one device discount, per eligible recipient, of up to $100 for a laptop or desktop computer or tablet purchased through an eligible provider.

 

“As the COVID-19 pandemic has made clear, having high-speed internet access at home isn’t a luxury, but a necessity so that people have access to critical services such as remote learning and telemedicine and maintain the ability to stay in contact with family and friends during a difficult and isolating time,” said Michigan Public Service Commissioner Tremaine Phillips, in a press release.

 

Broadband affordability is an important issue nationwide, but it’s acute in Michigan. About 1.25 million Michigan households lack a permanent fixed broadband connection. Affordability and lack of access in rural areas has caused Michigan to lag behind in residents with a broadband connection. This problem has only been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

 

A household is eligible for the Emergency Broadband Benefit program if a member of the household meets one of these criteria:

1. Has an income at or below 135% of federal poverty guidelines or participates in assistance programs such as SNAP, Medicaid, or Lifeline.

2. Receives benefits under the free and reduced-price school lunch program or the school breakfast program, or did so in the 2019-2020 school year.

3. Received a Federal Pell Grant during the current award year.

4. Experienced a substantial loss of income due to job loss or furlough since Feb. 29, 2020.

5. Meets the eligibility criteria for a participating broadband provider’s existing low income or COVID-19 program.

 

There are three ways to apply for the benefit:

1. Contact your preferred participating broadband provider directly to learn about their application process.

2. Go to GetEmergencyBroadband.org to apply online and find participating providers near you.

3. Call 833-511-0311 for a mail-in application and return it along with proof of eligibility to:

 

Emergency Broadband Support Center

P.O. Box 7081

London, KY 40742

 

The Emergency Broadband Benefit is a temporary assistance program that will expire when federal funds are exhausted or six months after the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services declares an end to the COVID-19 health emergency.

 

More information regarding the broadband benefit program and eligibility is available through the Universal Service Administrative Company and the FCC.