Low-income families often struggle to afford internet, but a new federal program will help.

MARTINSVILLE – As we learned over the past year, reliable internet is critical for a family to have. But some people just can’t afford the cost. That’s where the Emergency Broadband Benefit can help. Under the federal plan, which starts taking applications today, Virginians who meet certain eligibility requirements will receive a discount for broadband resources.

Through the Emergency Broadband Benefit, eligible households may receive a discount of up to $50 per month towards broadband service. The same goes for Native tribes. Households on qualifying Tribal lands may receive an enhanced benefit of up to $75 per month. 

The concept stems from a bill that passed back in December. On Dec. 27, 2020, the Consolidated Appropriations Act became law and established an Emergency Broadband Connectivity Fund of $3.2 billion. 

Money from the fund will specifically aid Americans who have struggled to afford internet service during the COVID-19 pandemic.

There’s more to it than just the monthly discount. You can also get a one-time credit of up to $100, to help pay for a laptop, desktop computer or tablet.

Now there are some rules linked to this. First, you can only buy your device from a list of 11 participating providers. Also, you have to contribute more than $10 but less than $50 toward the purchase. Finally, you can only get one monthly discount and one device credit per household.

The program will end when one of two things occurs, whichever comes sooner. One circumstance would be that the fund runs out of money. The other situation would be six months after the Department of Health and Human Services declares that the COVID-19 emergency is at an end.

Local Officials Outline the Need 

As of this week, 700,000 Virginia residents still do not have access to reliable internet. That’s what makes programs like the Emergency Broadband Benefit so important, officials say.

” This program could be an essential asset to student education in this new age of virtual education,” said Martinsville Schools Superintendent Zebedee Talley. “The educational arena continues to change and technological knowledge is more important for student learning than in past years.”

His comments were echoed by U.S. House Rep. Donald McEachin, who raised some other benefits of reliable internet, in addition to help with work or school.

“Whether it’s for work, for school, for virtual medical visits or to search for employment, this program will help families,” McEachin said.

As of Tuesday afternoon, 43 internet providers – including both mobile and fixed services – offered internet through the EBB in Virginia. Participating providers may receive a reimbursement for discounts through the EBB. The Federal Communications Commission will update their website as more providers come on board. 

Who Can Sign Up?

In order to sign up for the EBB, you have to meet at least one out of six criteria requirements. First, you qualify if your household is at or below 135% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines. Second, you can qualify if any household members take part in assistance programs like SNAP, Medicaid or Lifeline.

Third, the household qualifies if they’re part of the free and reduced-price school lunch program or the school breakfast program. Fourth, you can qualify if anyone in the home was a federal Pell Grant recipient this year.

If a person experienced a substantial loss of income due to job loss or furlough since February 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, they also receive the provision. 

Lastly, if a person meets the the eligibility criteria for a participating provider’s existing low-income or COVID-19 program, they may sign up.

The eligibility requirements are also on the Federal Communications Commission’s website. 

How Do I Sign Up?

The program went live May 12 at midnight. In order to sign up, first you need to check and make sure you qualify, which you can do here.

Once that’s done, you can choose the way you want to sign up. To do that and submit all the needed documents, you can click here

Finally, you’ll need to find a broadband provider to use. This link will help you sort through the options.

Amie Knowles reports for Dogwood. You can reach her at amie@couriernewsroom.com