• 73°

Temporary broadband assistance is available

Low income individuals and families in Virginia and across the nation may be eligible to receive temporary federal assistance to pay for broadband internet services in the near future thanks to a program designed to help people during the COVID-19 crisis.

“If you have questions about your eligibility, which broadband providers are part of the program or any other issues, the Federal Communications Commission has an online page, www.fcc.gov/consumer-faq-emergency-broadband-benefit, with information, or you can call 888-225-5322 toll-free and press option 6; the number is open 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. seven days a week,” David Neumeyer, executive director of Virginia Legal Aid Society, said. “The ability to find services, help and information, to apply for jobs and schedule COVID-19 vaccinations and to take part in online school and college classes depends on having reliable internet connections. For many low-income people, those connections are unavailable or unaffordable. That is why Virginia Legal Aid Society is helping to publicize this financial help.”

Families and individuals will receive a monthly discount of up to $50 (or up to $75 for eligible households on tribal lands). They will not receive the money directly. Instead, the money will be sent to the provider of their broadband services. The provider, in turn, will lower the monthly bill of eligible families.

On Dec. 27., the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021 became law and established an Emergency Broadband Connectivity Fund of $3.2 billion in the United States Treasury to help Americans afford internet service during the pandemic. The act directed the Federal Communications Commission to use the fund to establish an Emergency Broadband Benefit Program (EBB Program), under which eligible low-income households may receive a discount of the cost of broadband service and certain connected devices. Participating providers can receive a reimbursement for such discounts.

The EBB Program will conclude when the fund is expended or six months after the end of the public health emergency.

The FCC has not established a start date for the program yet, but the commission said people should be able to sign up for the benefits by the end of April.