The Emergency Broadband Benefit program, which provides subsidies of $50-$75 per month for internet service, has enrolled more than one million U.S. households in the first week of the program being available, according to the Federal Communications Commission.
“The high demand we’ve seen for the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program demonstrates what many of us already knew to be true – too many families are struggling to get online, even in 2021. Help is here. As an agency, we’re continuing to focus our efforts on reaching as many communities as possible, so they can get the support they need,” said Acting FCC Chair Jessica Rosenworcel in a statement.
The FCC says that program already has enrolled households in all 50 states, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands and American Samoa. The EBB was funded by Congress as part of coronavirus relief. The program makes available up to $3.2 billion to provide up to $50 per month for most households (up to $75 per month on Tribal lands) to subsidize the cost of broadband services. That money will be available until it runs out, or until six months after the Department of Health and Human Services declares the pandemic over. Around 900 network service providers across the country are participating in the EBB program; funds are sent to service providers to cover the cost of service, not to end users.
Program participants are also eligible for a one-time discount of up to $100 to purchase a laptop, desktop computer, or tablet (but not smartphones) from participating providers if they contribute between $10-$50 toward the purchase price. Households can qualify through their use of existing assistance programs such SNAP, Medicaid, Lifeline, free-or-reduced-price school meals or other programs, including if they are already eligible for a broadband provider’s existing relief program. The benefit is available to eligible new, prior, and existing customers of participating providers.
There are a few recent figures that show how much the program could help with issues of broadband affordability. According to bill pay service Doxo, the average household in the U.S. spends $116 per month on cable and internet — meaning that the EBB could cut consumers’ monthly bills nearly in half, saving them 43% per month and nearly $600 over the course of a year. Doxo reports that 82% of U.S. households pay cable and internet bills which add up to nearly $1,400 per year.
Broadband access advocacy group Broadband Now calculates a different figure for broadband alone: By its numbers, the average monthly cost for internet service in the U.S. is $68.38. Given that the EBB covers up to $50 per month of broadband costs and up to $75 on Tribal lands, that covers most, or even all, of the average monthly bill.
Tammy Parker, senior analyst at data and analytics company GlobalData, said that the EBB program “signals an emerging focus on broadband affordability rather than just accessibility. … In years past, the regulatory focus has largely been on expanding availability to bring unserved and underserved areas into the digital pipeline. However, COVID-19’s economic and societal impacts highlighted the economic inequities around broadband. Even when service is available, potential end users may not be able to pay for it.”
Parker says that the EBB will benefit not only consumers, but also carriers — in that it will “keep cash-strapped customers on the broadband rolls and should also attract users who may or may not have had broadband subscriptions in the past.“