WASHINGTON – The Federal Communications Commission on Thursday approved an emergency subsidy for low-income households to get high-speed internet. This is intended to bridge the digital divide that cut many Americans from communicating online during the pandemic.
The four-person commission unanimously agreed to offer low-income households up to $ 50 per month and Native American households up to $ 75 per month for broadband services. The FCC also grants a one-time discount of up to $ 100 on a computer or tablet for eligible households.
The program will use $ 3.2 billion that Congress allocated under its Covid-19 Relief Act late last year to provide Internet services to American families for distance learning, work, and digital health care.
The program will be available within 60 days, said Jessica Rosenworcel, acting chairwoman of the FCC. The agency has yet to register willing ISPs and set up a program to approve and track recipients. At least 14.5 million Americans lack broadband, according to an FCC report. Over the past year, the digital divide has grown in urgency.
“This is a program that will help those at risk of digital separation,” Ms. Rosenworcel said in a statement. “It will help those in car parking spaces get a Wi-Fi signal to go to work online. It will help those who linger outside the library with a laptop just to get a radio signal for distance learning. “
Eligible recipients include families with children who receive free or discounted lunchtime programs, Pell grant recipients, and people who have lost their jobs or whose income has decreased in the past year.
The digital divide has been one of the most persistent problems facing telecommunications decision makers. More than $ 8 billion in federal funding is allocated to the problem each year. Much of this is allocated to Internet service providers to provide services in rural and other underserved areas.
There are many challenges. Broadband cards, for example, notoriously overcounted the number of households with access. If an internet service provider like Charter or AT&T only hits one house in a census block, the entire block will appear connected on federal maps, even if not all houses get the broadband option.
Ms. Rosenworcel announced the formation of a task force to investigate the agency’s tracking of broadband access data.