A coalition of civil rights and digital advocacy organizations are encouraging households around the country to take advantage of the FCC’s COVID-19 relief Emergency Broadband Benefit (EBB) program while advocating for a permanent federal broadband subsidy and program that will create equitable, affordable internet access for all people in the U.S.
WASHINGTON, D.C., May 14, 2021 – The Emergency Broadband Benefit, which launched this Wednesday, is a part of the COVID-19 emergency relief response by the federal government that will provide a monthly discount funded by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) toward internet bills of up to $50 (or $75 on Tribal lands) for families in need. The temporary benefit will be available for eligible households until the allocated $3.2 billion program funding runs out. Since Congress adopted the program in December, the Lifeline Coalition, a group of civil rights and digital advocacy organizations, has been engaging in comprehensive efforts to connect families with the Emergency Broadband Benefit and enable affordable access to education, work, telemedicine and all aspects of basic life which now occur online. A program that is effectively promoted, available and accessible will maximize its successful impact.
A household is eligible for the Emergency Broadband Benefit if it has a member who meets any of the following criteria:
- Is unemployed and/or experienced a substantial loss of income after February 29, 2020;
- People could qualify if they have a layoff or furlough notice, have applied (not necessarily approved) for unemployment insurance benefits, or have similar documentation.
- Is a current Pell Grant recipient;
- Is approved to receive benefits under the school free and reduced price lunch program;
- Is eligible for the FCC’s existing Lifeline low-income discount program; or
- Is eligible for an existing low-income internet plan from their internet company.
Digital rights advocates have worked directly with the FCC to make the process easier for eligible communities to sign-up. In addition, digital equity advocates are calling for community allies to serve as ambassadors to publicize and implement the program.
To step up and support this effort, MediaJustice recently launched a website to help people understand the Emergency Broadband Benefit’s eligibility criteria and the logistics of enrolling. The National Digital Inclusion Alliance has created Emergency Broadband Benefit info pages to help intermediaries, providers and other advocates engage in outreach to disseminate clear information to eligible communities about the Emergency Broadband Benefit program and its sign-up process. Next Century Cities and Common Sense have also created explainers to answer frequently asked questions and share other relevant information needed by consumers. The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights has developed messaging resources and a social media toolkit.
Even as the Lifeline Coalition promotes use of the Emergency Broadband Benefit, it maintains that access to affordable internet is a basic necessity for all after the pandemic and the emergency program’s lifespan is over. Congress must establish a permanent broadband program to close the internet affordability gap. The Emergency Broadband Benefit responds to the COVID-19 emergency, but our country requires a permanent solution to address our long-standing disparities in internet access, particularly for BIPOC communities, low-income neighborhoods and rural populations.
The Emergency Broadband Benefit is an important step in the government acknowledging that affordability is a primary barrier to internet adoption. Further federal investment is needed to ensure that the cost of broadband service and connected devices does not leave low-income households without access to remote education, online work and telemedicine. Support is also needed for digital literacy training, skills adoption, and better access to digital navigators and devices. Such action will yield incredible benefits for our economy, health, education, and social and civic participation.
Individuals from the groups Public Knowledge, Benton Institute for Broadband & Society, MediaJustice, Common Cause, National Digital Inclusion Alliance, Greenlining Institute, National Hispanic Media Coalition, Next Century Cities, and New America’s Open Technology Institute will be hosting a Reddit AMA at reddit.com/r/IAmA/ from 2-3 p.m. EDT on Friday, May 14. Participants will answer questions on the FCC’s Emergency Broadband Benefit program to help people in the U.S. get or stay connected to this essential service.
Said Olivia Wein, staff attorney at the National Consumer Law Center:
“The COVID-19 pandemic shines a light on a harsh reality for low-income consumers, particularly in communities of color–broadband internet is essential but unaffordable. Thanks to the hard work of public interest organizations, industry, and bipartisan support in Congress, the FCC’s Emergency Broadband Benefit program will help narrow the broadband affordability gap for low-income households in the short-term, but a permanent affordability solution is urgently needed.”
Said Adrianne B. Furniss, executive director at Benton Institute for Broadband & Society:
“For too many, especially the newly unemployed, the cost of broadband service is not affordable. We need a permanent, comprehensive, broadband affordability agenda to ensure everyone can participate fully in our increasingly digital society. The debate on whether broadband is a luxury or an essential connection is over. Now our policies must catch up to this reality.”
Said Ryan Johnston, policy counsel of federal programs at Next Century Cities:
“The launch of the Emergency Broadband Benefit program is a step in the right direction. It addresses one of the main concerns shared by those who do not maintain broadband subscriptions – affordability. However, this is a short-term solution. The FCC must work closely with the community leaders and municipalities that are on the front lines of program promotion. Only then will the agency be able to determine where the benefit has been effective and where households remain disconnected. What we learn from this process can help inform long-term broadband adoption strategies.”
Said Chris Shelton, President of the Communications Workers of America:
“Throughout the pandemic, CWA members who work in telecommunications have been putting themselves at risk to keep our country’s broadband networks up and running. We are reminded every day that affordable, reliable broadband internet connections are a necessity for everyone for work, education, healthcare, and civic engagement. The launch of the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program is a critical step to address the affordability of broadband, helping to connect people across the country, especially as the pandemic has widened the digital divide. We applaud the FCC and USAC for their efforts to help the many households that are struggling to afford internet service — and for doing so quickly. CWA activists across the country will be encouraging eligible consumers to take advantage of this important program.”
Said Danny Weiss Chief Advocacy Officer at Common Sense
“The new Emergency Broadband Benefit program will provide much needed relief for millions of families who cannot afford the home broadband service and devices that are critical to keeping families informed and safe during the pandemic. This program secures more than just access to the internet – it enables distance learning for students of all ages, access to remote work, and the ability to meaningfully use telemedicine among other critical activities. Now, Congress and the Biden Administration must work together to close the digital divide for every home and business in America for good.”
Said Jenna Leventoff, Senior Policy Counsel at Public Knowledge:
“Many consumers are struggling to afford broadband, especially as the pandemic has caused millions to lose their jobs. This benefit offers hope for families who have had to go without broadband during the time when they need it most. It represents hope that families no longer have to forgo food or other necessities just to pay the internet bill. And it demonstrates that the government has a vital role to play to ensure that everyone, regardless of their income, where they reside, or what they look like, has access to affordable, reliable, high-speed broadband — the essential utility of our time.
Said Cheryl A. Leanza, policy advisor to the United Church of Christ’s media justice ministry, OC Inc.:
“During the pandemic, online access became our collective door to the world. Everything now happens online from church and religious services to education to health care. No one should have to scrimp on food to afford school or connect with a doctor. Access to justice in our courts is similarly dependent on online access. After a long effort with our civil rights colleagues and in Congress, we successfully obtained financial support for people who need broadband and cannot afford it. We are so excited for families to gain some financial relief and access to much-needed service through this program. A wide range of products are available, and many will be free after the EBB’s $50 discount (or $75 discount on tribal lands). Consumers should take advantage of this while it is here, particularly because of the many consumer protections in the program. And Congress should quickly move to adopt a permanent program—the accelerated national shift to working, learning and collaborating online will not be reversed. The world has changed; no one should be left behind.”
Said Wade Henderson, interim president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights:
“The launch of the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program is a critical step in connecting people across the country, especially as the COVID-19 pandemic has widened the digital divide. Broadband internet access is necessary for health care, employment, civic engagement, and education. We look forward to working with the administration to ensure connectivity for our most vulnerable communities.”
Said Joshua Stager, deputy director for broadband and competition policy at New America’s Open Technology Institute:
“This is a landmark day for digital equity and utility justice. Millions of people have suffered through the pandemic without access to the internet because they cannot afford it. OTI’s research has long documented the high cost of internet service in the United States. Today, the federal government is finally doing something to meaningfully address the problem. This is a huge step forward.
“We thank the FCC and USAC for their tireless efforts to get this program off the ground in record time. At long last, help is on the way for the many households that are struggling to afford internet service.”
Said Brandon Forester, organizer at MediaJustice:
“The Emergency Broadband Program is a critical and effective emergency initiative to help address Internet affordability, the biggest barrier to Black and brown communities having internet access. The ongoing pandemic continues to demonstrate that the internet is an essential service that everyone must have access to. Advocates face an incredible challenge in making sure that everyone who is eligible for this program knows about its existence and is able to sign up. Partnering alongside MediaJustice Network members and our coalition partners, MediaJustice created EBBHelp.org to help meet this challenge.
“It’s going to take a robust effort to ensure this program is a success. Internet access grants access to healthcare, vaccines, education, employment, housing and every other facet of our society. We need state and local officials, press, civil society, schools, businesses, faith communities, service organizations and everyone who has a stake in marginalized communities thriving to do everything they can to promote this program and help our people get connected to this discount benefit.”
Said Dana Floberg, policy manager at Free Press:
“With the launch of the Emergency Broadband Benefit program, families will finally be able to get the support they need to cross the digital divide and better face the challenges of this ongoing national emergency. High-speed internet prices are too expensive and rising, and this essential service is disproportionately out of reach for low-income families and communities of color. This inequity is especially egregious when people rely even more on internet access to safely connect to school, work, doctors, and loved ones during the COVID-19 emergency. Setting up the EBB represents a tremendous step forward to providing relief and connectivity to the communities that need it most.
“However, the FCC’s work is not done, and it must continue outreach and incorporate feedback from impacted communities to make this program a success.”
Said Willmary Escoto, U.S. Policy Analyst at Access Now:
“In the midst of the global pandemic, it is imperative that everyone has access to a high-quality internet connection—particularly communities of color and low-income households. Without it, these communities cannot exercise a broad spectrum of human rights, including the right to access information. Although a permanent solution is the goal, today marks a monumental step towards helping connect millions of affected people to broadband. Through the Emergency Benefit Broadband program, Congress and the FCC have made it clear that affordable connectivity for low-income households is a top priority.”
Said Margaret Käufer, President, STEM Alliance:
“The Emergency Broadband Benefit is a critical first step in helping provide digital equity for all. The STEM Alliance has seen first hand the struggle of families who are relegated to living an analog existence in a digitally driven world: lack of access to telehealth, inability to apply for jobs or gain job skills, remote learning strain and even struggles completing the census. EBB is a first step in bridging that gap.
Said Vinhcent Le, Legal Counsel, The Greenlining Institute:
“The internet is an essential service just like water, gas and electricity, and yet too many people lack access. The high cost of broadband service is the reason why so many people of color, students and low-income families are trapped in the digital divide. The EBB can help close this gap in the short term, however we owe it to ourselves and future generations to ensure that every family can afford permanent access to the internet and the opportunities it provides.
To sustain this program into the future, we need to drive down the cost of internet access and to require more from monopolistic internet providers that take billions in government funding, increase prices year over year without improving services and who refuse to invest in communities of color and low-income neighborhoods that are stuck with slow, unreliable services. We commend the FCC for creating the EBB and we hope this serves as the first step in a comprehensive and sustainable pathway to closing the digital divide.”
Said Emily Chi, Assistant Director of Telecommunications, Technology, and Media at Asian Americans Advancing Justice | AAJC:
“The digital divide is an equity issue. The Emergency Broadband Benefit is important to bridging the divide for the Asian American and Pacific Islander community, immigrants, non-English speakers, the elderly, and other people of color and historically marginalized and underserved communities. We must ensure all of our communities have access to affordable and reliable internet so that they have the essential services, connections, and opportunities that they need to thrive.”
Said Ramsey Alwin, President and CEO, National Council on Aging:
“The COVID-19 pandemic has shined a bright spotlight on the unacceptable inequities around digital access in the United States. While older adults with high-speed internet access benefited from telehealth and food delivery during the pandemic, those without broadband suffered. Too many older adults face multiple barriers ranging from digital literacy to affordable, accessible devices and broadband. The Emergency Broadband Benefit is one important means of addressing affordability in the near term, and we continue to urge policymakers to make the investments and systems changes needed for true digital equity.”
Said Angela Siefer, Executive Director of the National Digital Inclusion Alliance:
“The Emergency Broadband Benefit is the first significant acknowledgment by our federal government that affordability is a barrier to internet service in the home. This is an incredible first step. Next up – a permanent broadband benefit, support for digital literacy training, digital navigators and devices. Technology is woven into every aspect of our lives and our society. Digital access and use is a tool that, when used successfully by more of us, collectively strengthens our economy, health, education, social and civic participation.”