Internet subsidy for low-income Alaskans offers $75 per month

Internet users in Alaska who are low income or who lost wages during the pandemic are eligible for an internet subsidy of up to $75 per month under a new federal program.

A household is eligible if someone qualifies for the Lifeline program, receives assistance such as free and reduced-price school lunches or a Pell Grant, or experienced a substantial loss of income due to pandemic. Households that make less than 135% of the federal poverty designation per household also apply.

Eligibility is defined on the website for the program, getemergencybroadband.org. There are also special terms for Tribal residents.

The program is set up to give eligible households a $50 per month discount, but some Alaskans could get $75.

“I think that’s one important thing for Alaska listeners to know, the benefit is up to $75 a month for those households, as opposed to the $50 a month discount,” said Ed Bartholme, the Deputy Chief of the Federal Communications Commission’s Consumer & Governmental Affairs Bureau.

It’s called the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program, but it’s not just broadband.

“There’s a variety of service types that are included in the program — there’s fixed wireless, there’s wired for homes that have wired connectivity as an option, there is mobile which is much more akin to cell phone service,” said Bartholme.

The money came out of the huge Consolidated Appropriations Act passed by Congress in December. One aspect was focused on how much families relied on internet connectivity while staying apart from others to prevent from spreading disease.

Bartholme said it took a while to stand up the program, but for his agency, it was record time.

“Congress instructed the FCC to stand up a completely new program that is critically important, critically timely to the current environment and the current situation, but making it live and real where people can actually start to collect benefits from it.”

It won’t pay fees that are already owed, but discounts start this week.

The pandemic-related program will continue until the $3.2 billion in federal funding runs out or six months after the Department of Health and Human Services declares an end to the pandemic.

The FCC website shows all the Alaska providers who are participating: Larger ones like GCI, Alaska Communications, and MTA, but also Cordova, Copper Valley, Ketchikan and Cricket, a total of 26 across the state. It shows three providers are also giving discounts on devices as part of the program.

Bartholme says there are consumer protections built into the program.

“One of the big things we wanted to prevent and make sure it didn’t happen, was that people who needed this sort of assistance weren’t stuck with sort of an episode of ‘bill shock’ when the money runs out,” he said.

Customers can sign up by contacting a participating provider, enroll online at https://getemergencybroadband.org/, mail in an application, or call (833) 511-0311.

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