On Tuesday, the U.S. Senate passed a $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure package, which includes $65 billion for expanding broadband access throughout the country. Since 2020, the U.S. government has offered the Emergency Broadband Benefit (EBB), a program that provides discounts for low-income Americans on their internet plans.
Here’s how to apply for the Emergency Broadband Benefit, and what the new infrastructure bill means for the future of the digital divide.
What is the Emergency Broadband Benefit?
The EBB program provides a monthly discount for broadband service up to $50 per eligible household, or up to $75 per eligible household on Tribal land. It also provides a one-time, up-to-$100 device discount on a laptop, desktop computer, or tablet. The COVID-19 pandemic has widened the digital divide, particularly to the detriment of rural, low-income, and indigenous communities — and the EBB aims to alleviate that.
Who can apply for the Emergency Broadband Benefit?
The EBB is available to anyone who can satisfy at least one of the following:
- Has an income that’s at or below 135% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines or participates in certain assistance programs, such as SNAP, Medicaid, or Lifeline
- Approved to receive benefits under the National School Lunch Program or School Breakfast Program
- Received a Federal Pell Grant in the last year
- Experienced a substantial loss of income due to job loss or furlough since February 29, 2020, and the household had a total income in 2020 at or below $99,000 for single filers and $198,000 for joint filers
- Meets the eligibility criteria for a participating provider’s existing low-income or COVID-19 program
How to apply for the Emergency Broadband Benefit
Here are the steps.
- Prepare your eligibility documents. You need to provide at least one of the following to show eligibility: a benefit award letter or statement, an approval letter, a current income statement from your employer, or a paycheck stub. To demonstrate a substantial loss of income, you will need two documents: one to show your income change and one to show your current income.
- Apply directly through any of these participating broadband providers (online through the consumer portal or by completing a paper application).
Emergency Broadband Support Center
P.O. Box 7081
London, KY 40742
If you are a student receiving a federal Pell Grant, your application should include documentation from the most recent academic year, such as a screenshot of the Pell Grant receipt on your StudentAid.gov dashboard.
Households enrolled in Lifeline don’t need to apply separately for the Emergency Broadband Benefit. They can contact their current Lifeline provider or another local, participating Emergency Broadband Benefit provider to choose a service plan at a reduced rate.
How the new infrastructure bill may change the Emergency Broadband Benefit
The EBB program is temporary and will end when the fund runs out of money or six months after the Department of Health and Human Services declares an end to the COVID-19 health emergency — whichever is sooner. If enacted, the infrastructure package would create a permanent internet discount program. Under the EBB, people receive a $50 per month benefit (or $75 per month for Tribal lands). Under the new infrastructure package, the internet discount program would get reduced to $30 per month. The Senate infrastructure bill would also make it easier for Pell Grant recipients to take advantage of the program. The Department of Education would automatically verify Pell recipients against its database.
Although the infrastructure package’s new program would provide a lower discount, it would still be a significant step toward closing the digital divide, because unlike the EBB, it’s permanent. If you or someone you know needs internet access and fits the EBB application criteria, take advantage of this program.