The Bulletin Board

New broadband assistance program to start Wednesday

By: - May 11, 2021 2:41 pm
A woman pays bills online

The program – the Emergency Broadband Benefit – will lower internet bills by up to $50 a month for those who qualify. (Getty Images)

Starting Wednesday, qualifying New Hampshire households can apply for broadband payment assistance as part of a $3.2 billion temporary federal program.

At a press conference Tuesday, U.S. Reps. Chris Pappas and Annie Kuster urged those who are eligible to sign up for the aid.

“We want as many people in New Hampshire as possible to take advantage of this,” Pappas said.

The program – the Emergency Broadband Benefit – will lower internet bills by up to $50 a month for those who qualify, and it includes up to $100 off one device, such as a tablet or computer, to help an individual get online. The assistance will last for up to six months after the pandemic ends or until the funds are depleted, whichever happens first.

Acting FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said the program is the largest ever broadband affordability program in the country and was spurred by the pandemic, which both increased need for assistance and revealed broadband to be a necessity for households to access basic services.

“We’re going to watch this program closely,” Rosenworcel said. “It’s my hope that as these dollars run out, we’ll be able to, as an agency, go to Congress and let Congress know what we’ve learned, because we’re going to need a longer and more durable broadband affordability program and agenda in this country.”

The FCC program was authorized with the end-of-year coronavirus relief package, and it aims to help households struggling to afford broadband. As many as one in three households nationwide have reported concerns about being able to afford broadband during the pandemic, according to a study by the Pew Internet Research Center.

“COVID really lifted the curtain on some of the internal structural problems that we have in terms of getting access to broadband,” Kuster said.

This program wouldn’t help those addresses where broadband infrastructure is lacking, but money from the American Rescue Plan could go toward building out poles and wires. President Joe Biden’s infrastructure plan – which is currently before Congress – also contains significant money for building out broadband.

Kuster said affordability is a big problem when it comes to accessing broadband, too.

“One thing I learned this week from one of the company representatives is there are actually more people in the country who could have access but can’t afford it than those who have no access,” Kuster said.

Five percent of New Hampshire residents live in an area without broadband, while 10 percent of households don’t have an internet subscription, according to data published by the White House. Approximately 63 percent of people in the state live in an area where there is only one provider, a situation that many broadband experts blame for the high cost of internet to both residents and businesses.

To be eligible for the broadband assistance program, households must either have an income that is at or below 135% of the federal poverty guidelines or participate in programs including SNAP, Medicaid, or Lifeline. Families that have received a Pell Grant or who have children receiving free or reduced-price school lunch or breakfast also qualify.

The application will be available online. Individuals can also apply directly through participating providers.  

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Amanda Gokee
Amanda Gokee

Amanda Gokee reported on energy and environment for New Hampshire Bulletin. She also previously reported on these issues at VTDigger. Amanda grew up in Vermont and is a graduate of Harvard University. She received her master’s degree in liberal studies, with a concentration in creative writing, from Dartmouth College. Her work has also appeared in the LA Review of Books and the Valley News.