New Federal Program Offers Discounted Internet Service to People With Disabilities

A new federal program helps Americans with disabilities afford broadband Internet. It subsidizes service by $50 for most eligible citizens and by $75 for those who live on qualified tribal lands. The benefit is also available to people who receive Medicaid, SNAP, Supplemental Social Security, and other programs.

The Emergency Broadband Benefit

The EBB is an FCC program that is being administered by the Universal Service Administrative Company. You can register through the Lifeline section of the USAC website to determine if you are eligible. However, the vast majority of those eligible do not have to register. They can instead simply contact their service provider—cable, phone, cell phone, and so forth—which will then take care of the details. The service provider will simply reduce the bill by $50 to as low as $0 and be compensated by USAC later. Note that there will some cases where the service provider cannot perform the enrollment. If you find yourself in that situation, then you will need to register through USAC, which will then provide you the needed details to give your ISP.

EBB Participation Is Optional

The government is not mandating EBB participation. All of the internet service providers and other companies who are participating have opted in. That means that there is a chance that the EBB will not be available to you because the companies in your area are not participating. This will not affect many Americans, however, since all of the major ISPs in the country have opted in.

It is also worth noting that ISPs have a great deal of control over how they offer the benefit. They could, for instance, limit it to only certain plans that they offer, which has already been the case with a number of companies. Verizon, in fact, generated some negative press when customers complained that they were using it as an opportunity to get rid of grandfathered plans. In order for those MetroNet and Verizon customers to get the benefit, they had to give up the old plan and opt for one of the newer packages.

EBB Is Temporary

Some politicians hope to make the EBB a permanent program in order to close the broadband adoption gap that exists among low-income people in the United States. The program was seeded with $3.2 billion. As currently configured, it will last as long as those funds do, or will end six months after the government determines that the pandemic is no longer a public health emergency.

The temporary nature of the program makes the actions by Verizon and some other ISPs even worse. Verizon, for instance, forced some customers into plans that would be more expensive were it not for the $50 benefit. That means that down the road, these people will be paying more than before the EBB.

Discount on Equipment

The EBB also includes a one-time benefit up to $100 that eligible customers can use for laptops, tablets, phones, and so forth. While that sounds great in practice, most people who have wanted to take advantage of that benefit could not. The reason for this is that many of the ISPs do not have a way to provide this equipment to customers and are still scrambling to form new partnerships. The FCC is also looking at various ways in which other organizations can process these one-time discounts.

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