Fewer families will have to choose between putting food on the table and paying bills or having high-speed internet connectivity thanks to a new Bipartisan Infrastructure Law that allocates $65 billion to expand broadband, creates low cost service options for families with limited income, and supports digital equity efforts.
The Infrastructure Law provides funding for the FCC’s Affordable Connectivity Program, offering 48 million eligible households — nearly 40% of the country — a reduced monthly service cost ($30) for home access.
“High-speed internet is not a luxury any longer. It’s a necessity,” President Joe Biden said from the White House Rose Garden earlier last week in a press conference announcing a partnership with major internet providers that will significantly improve download speeds for participating households.
Specifically, this newly secured partnership with 20 major providers, including Comcast, ATT, and others, means high speed internet plans with at least 100Mbps download speeds will be available to participants for $30, meaning they can receive internet at no or low-cost in conjunction with the ACP benefit.
While this announcement is an impactful first step in addressing the digital divide, the promise does not come with a commensurate increase in upload speeds — an issue the pandemic has shown to significantly impact learning, communication, commerce, and telehealth. Upload speeds are important for video chats, live streaming, and many other important tasks.
But what’s the big deal about broadband and why are accessibility efforts so important across America?
Mostly, it’s about addressing the disproportionate number of low-income community members who are disconnected at a time when reliable internet access is critical for everyone from grade school students to continuing education to those in need of Telehealth care and more.
Prior to this announcement, it was estimated at the end of last year that 1-in-3 Americans (more than 120 million) don’t have a high speed broadband connection, mainly due to lack of affordability or access, according to a Microsoft study during the pandemic.
So who qualifies — and what about the rest of the disconnected families?
There are a few ways to qualify (and you can find out if you qualify here):
- If your household annual income is at $27,000 for an individual or $55,000 for a family of 4.
- If you are enrolled in other federal programs, such as Medicaid, Supplemental Security Income, or Pell Grants.
- If you qualify for a participating internet company’s low-cost program.
Beyond the concerns regarding low upload speeds, we continue to have many rural areas that lack the basic infrastructure to provide high speed home internet to residents. Additionally, there are some urban areas in cities where larger ISPs have built out the more affluent areas, but not the lower income areas, leaving some without the capacity to purchase broadband at any price.
The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law will allocate funding to states to help them build internet infrastructure — a once in a lifetime opportunity to connect the unconnected or under-connected.
It is important that the money is allocated equitably and that local coops, local government, and municipal utilities be eligible to participate in the program. This is a moment in time where we need all options on the table to ensure we have equitable access across the county.
— The Enterprise Center team
If you have questions about whether your family is eligible for the Affordable Connectivity Program or HCS EdConnect, Powered by EPB, get in touch with Tech Goes Home Chattanooga’s Connectivity Ambassador: 423-521-2071 (send a text or leave a message) or email@example.com.