Digital connectivity is no longer a luxury — it’s a necessity. In 2020, we saw the disproportionate lack of connectivity by race, income, and zip code grow even wider, while we simultaneously relied on digital connectivity more than ever before. For many of these reasons, closing the digital divide has become a key national priority.
The need to make broadband and devices more affordable and accessible and equitable was the topic of yesterday’s House Committee on Energy and Commerce live hearing on Broadband Equity.
Today we are on the brink of the rollout of the largest broadband benefit program in U.S. history — Emergency Broadband Benefit (EBB) — set to go live May 12. This Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) temporary program will provide $3.2B to enable families that have lost jobs and/or are low income to access subsidized broadband and devices.
However, how do we ensure that communities of color, low income, those still disconnected — those who need it the most- get connected and not be left out?
This is a topic that the Kapor Center, in collaboration with key broadband policy leaders and community organizers discussed last week at the Equity Centered Path to Broadband for All (watch the recording HERE).
Below are key takeaways from this session to help streamline information regarding EBB:
What is the EBB?
The EBB program provides eligible low-income households up to $50 per month off the cost of broadband internet, or up to $75 per month on Tribal lands. Eligible households can also access a one-time discount of up to $100 on eligible hardware purchases (a laptop, desktop computer, or tablet) through a participating provider. $3.2 billion is available nationwide until funds run out, or six months after the end of the pandemic, whichever comes first.
Who is eligible for the EBB?
For a household to benefit from the EBB, one member must meet one of the following requirements:
- Be eligible for the Lifeline phone and internet benefit program, which includes having an income at or below 135% of Federal Poverty Guidelines, or participating in one of the following programs:
- Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)
- Medicaid healthcare program
- Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
- Federal Public Housing Assistance (FPHA)
- Veterans Pension and Survivors Benefit
- Tribal programs (and you live on qualifying Tribal lands)
- Experienced job loss or furlough that caused a substantial loss of income since February 29, 2020 and had a total 2020 income at or below $99,000 for single filers, $198,000 for joint filers
- Is approved to receive benefits under the free and reduced school lunch program or school breakfast program in the 2019–2020 or 2020–2021 school year
- Received a Federal Pell Grant for university students during the current award year
- Eligible for a participating broadband provider’s low-income or COVID-19 program
How can individuals and/or families who are still not connected sign up for EBB?
To make sure those most affected by the Digital Divide are receiving the benefit, we need grassroots organizations around the country — especially those on Tribal lands and multi-lingual — to help people apply. If you or your organization works directly with people eligible for the EBB, you can help by guiding them through the eligibility criteria and application process described below.
First: individuals will need to be verified through a national verifier program accessible online or by mail:
- Using the online application at getemergencybroadband.org (This is the recommended path for faster confirmation of eligibility).
- Or via mail by printing an application in English or Spanish, and sending it, with proof of eligibility, to: Emergency Broadband Support Center, P.O. Box 7081, London, KY, 40742
Please note: National verification time may vary by state.
Second: individuals/families need to determine whether a participating provider is near you. Scan the list of EBB providers to find participating providers in your state. Providers like Comcast have launched dedicated websites to make the process easier.Applicants can select any offering they want to apply the $50 credit towards. Make sure to look for the option to “use another payment method” for EBB (no need for credit card). However, providers may ask for additional information to verify identity if a credit card is not used.
How does this impact families already signed up with a provider?
ISP Providers are starting to send outreach communication to existing customers to raise awareness of EBB and how to opt in. If for example, a family is already on Comcast’s Internet Essentials, they automatically qualify for EBB program and will be notified to opt in via an online form. They will not be charged for the internet during the duration of EBB program enrollment. Also, if an existing customer wants to upgrade to a higher offering they can also do that and have the $50 be applied to their credit. Service providers are rolling out with their instructions, so make sure to check for specific offerings with the provider in your area.
What happens when funding runs out?
The FCC has instructed service providers to send a 30 day notice of when EBB funding will run out. Service providers will send consent notification to EBB participants to continue service and/or update payment information. If no action is taken by the participant, the service provider will start the disconnect process.
Here’s how you can help:
The funds will be applied on a first come, first serve method. Trusted and multi-cultural community based organizations are critical in this role to reach those still offline. More specifically, organizations that working on direct outreach to Black, Latinx, Indigenous communities are needed. This is why Kapor Center alongside community partners in Oakland and Central Valley are preparing to host COVID-safe pop up sign up centers to meet the community where they are at. We will update this blog with more information about location and time. If you’d like to volunteer or support, please submit this form.
We need all hands on deck to get broadband access to those who need it most! A simple ask for today is to spread the word!:
The Emergency Broadband Benefit provides discounts for households struggling to afford broadband and devices during the COVID19 pandemic.
📶 Up to $50 off broadband ($75 on Tribal lands)
💻 $100 off devices
Find out if you qualify & how to apply fcc.gov/broadbandbenefit
You can find more graphic options relevant for your community here.
For more resources, like flyers, posters and multi language social media copy, visit the Official FCC Toolkit website.
Special Thank You to our expert panel that included, a national broadband policy framing by Amina Fazllulah, Director of Equity Policy at Common Sense and Alejandro Roark, Executive Director, Hispanic Technology & Telecommunications Partnership (HTTP) HTTPPolicy.org, followed by programmatic EBB information provided by Chantal Virgile, Consumer Educational Outreach Specialist Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and Trinity Thorpe-Lubneuski, Sr. Director of Internet Essentials at Comcast. We closed with a Community lens dividing into to ensure programs like EBB rollout successfully and ultimately how we can center not only equity in policy but also funding and outreach led by Vinhcent Le, Legal Counsel, Technology Equity at Greenlining and Dirk Tillotson, E.D. and founder Great School Choices