New Orleans One of the pandemic programs that may be cruising below the radar, but which could be a critical step on lowering the digital divide, is the FCC’s program for emergency broadband. On Wade’s World , I talked to the digital equity coordinator for the City of Little Rock, Maddie Long, about the ins and outs of this program, so that we all can find out more about how to make the push to access this program, while it’s still available.
The program provides up to $50 per month to allow eligible individuals and families to access broadband. Another part of the program would also provide up to $100 to buy a computer or tablet.
The eligibility is income-based, but there’s more to it than just a simple wage figure. If a family is 135% above the poverty measure or lower, then it’s automatic. Or, if their children are participants in a free or reduced-price lunch program at school. Or, if they can prove loss of income due to the pandemic in 2020 or 2021. Or, if they are a veteran in certain circumstances. And, there’s more. The bottom line is that if you even think that you might be eligible, apply immediately. There’s money waiting for you!
Where do you apply might be the next question? You can certainly apply through participating internet providers, but, sadly, our experience in trying to get Comcast, Cox, and Times-Warner several years ago to actually allow families to access the FCC’s $10 per month program was very, very difficult. Sure enough, talking to a colleague recently, he had applied through Comcast and because he had once had an unpaid bill on discontinued service, they rejected him. Sister Long was crystal clear – that’s against the regulations and a complaint should be filed with the FCC. Of course, the complaint system at the FCC is all via the internet, so that’s a Catch-22! Best advice: apply directly via www.getemergencybroadband.org or, depending on where you live, your local library might also be ready to lend a hand, as the CALS system is doing in Little Rock. The city is also trying to give access through their community centers, but are having network problems, but other cities may be able to help at their centers.
There’s an issue with speeds, as we discovered in ACORN Canada’s Internet for All campaign, where we had to fight Rogers and others to boost it up. Maddie says they are trying to get over 100mps now from providers which would be very good.
But, don’t wait. This is not an entitlement, but a “long as the money lasts” deal. Supporters are hoping it becomes permanent as part of the eventual infrastructure bill compromises in Congress. Regardless, if the money lasts it could be good until six months after the pandemic declared to be over, and that could be a while.
For organizers, there’s a tip that Maddie shared. The FCC has maps of underserved areas for internet, allowing community organizations to direct their fire where it might have the most impact, though most of us probably know exactly where the divide is widest.
Come and get it, while it’s hot!