Lawmakers Urge Internet Companies to Join New Discount Broadband Program

In this Aug. 26, 2020, file photo Los Angeles Unified School District students attend online classes at Boys & Girls Club of Hollywood in Los Angeles.

In this Aug. 26, 2020, file photo Los Angeles Unified School District students attend online classes at Boys & Girls Club of Hollywood in Los Angeles. AP Photo/Jae C. Hong

The Emergency Broadband Benefit Program, slated to start at the end of April, will provide discounts on internet service to struggling households.

Congressional lawmakers are calling on internet service providers to participate in a new federal program that discounts internet service for low-income families.

The $3.2 billion Emergency Broadband Benefit Program, approved in December, will offer a $50-a-month discount to eligible households. The Federal Communications Commission is working to get the program up and running by the end of April, and lawmakers said providers should do their part to let consumers across the country know about it.

Top leaders on the Energy and Commerce Committee sent letters to nine major internet service providers and several industry associations encouraging them to join and promote the program.

“For this historic $3.2 billion program to help the greatest number of people, it will require the cooperation and support of internet service providers like your company,” wrote committee leaders, including Chairman Frank Pallone and Ranking Member Cathy McMorris Rodgers. “Simply put, the more companies participate in the program, the more we can, together, ensure that all Americans have this crucial connectivity.”

The letters were sent to Altice, AT&T, CenturyLink, Charter, Comcast, Cox, Frontier, T-Mobile and Verizon.

The FCC has been in contact with at least 380 internet service providers about the program, said FCC Acting Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, as she spoke at a National Association of Counties panel on Wednesday.

To inform potential customers of the program, state and local governments, schools, and local organizations and faith leaders should also help get the word out, Rosenworcel said.

As the FCC works to improve broadband access across the country, Rosenworcel said feedback from state and local governments will be crucial to help pinpoint areas where service is lacking.

“We are going to need to work with you as we navigate broadband and infrastructure issues down the road,” she said.

The FCC has launched several new initiatives in recent weeks meant to improve internet access and broadband infrastructure.

But officials see the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program as one of the best ways to immediately help people get or stay connected to the internet during the pandemic even if they are struggling financially. The program provides eligible households a discount of up to $50 a month toward broadband service (up to $75 for households on Tribal land). Internet service providers apply for reimbursement from the FCC for the program. Households can also receive a one-time discount of up to $100 to purchase a laptop or tablet.

Eligible households include those enrolled in Medicaid, SNAP benefits, free and reduced-price lunch programs at school, Pell grant recipients, Lifeline subscribers, and those who have lost jobs or had income reduced in the last year.

Andrea Noble is a staff correspondent with Route Fifty.

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