BALTIMORE — The internet is how we’ve stayed connected during the pandemic, but not everyone can afford online access.
To help bridge the digital divide, the Federal Communications Commission recently launched the Emergency Broadband Benefit program providing eligible households with a $50 discount towards internet service, $75 if you live on tribal lands.
“It’s literally a life or death matter. It’s access to justice, it’s access to not getting evicted from your home, it’s access to being able to get a vaccine, to connect with your family,” said Brandon Forester, an organizer for MediaJustice.
There are many ways a household can qualify for the discount. EBBHelp.org has a full list.
Consumers are eligible if someone in the household has an income at or below 135 percent of the federal poverty guidelines.
Or if you already receive SNAP, SSI, Medicaid, experienced significant income loss during the pandemic, or are a Lifeline program participant.
“Folks who experienced economic hardship, college student or households that have a student with a Pell Grant. Free and reduced school lunch, folks who are eligible, I understand in Baltimore the whole city is eligible, so everyone who has a student enrolled in Baltimore City schools is eligible,” said Forester.
And the sooner you sign up, the longer you’ll have the incentive. The end date is whenever funds run out.
“We expect it to last for several months, it’s bound by funding, which has $3.2 billion in funding,” Forester said.
In the meantime, groups like MediaJustice are pushing for a long-term program. Forester added that little competition has made cable companies less willing to reduce their prices. And while companies, like Comcast, offer discounted programs, cable and internet is still a big expense costing consumers in the Baltimore area around $112 per month, according to doxoINSIGHTS.
“Ultimately, we need to do this for harm reduction, make sure folks can get online right now in 2021, but we also, moving towards the future, need to make sure there’s robust competition so that the providers we have now, these big cable companies, actually feel an incentive and pressure to lower their prices in the long run,” Forester said.
In one week, more than 1 million households enrolled in the program.
You can apply by clicking here or contacting your service provider.
Comcast is making EBB available to new and existing customers who qualify, including those receiving service through Internet Essentials. Click here for more information.
Eligible households can also receive a one-time $100 discount on a computer or tablet from participating providers if they contribute more than $10 and less than $50 toward the purchase price.
For further questions or assistance with the program, call the federal government’s EBB helpline 9 a.m. - 9 p.m. ET 7 days a week at (833) 511-0311.