The pandemic continues to shift many aspects of our daily lives online — from accessing telehealth, completing schoolwork, searching for jobs, and working from home. Now more than ever, internet access is essential to participate in society, and yet, many still lack access. While the FCC reports that 19 million Americans (6 percent of the population) do not have fixed broadband service at threshold speeds, Microsoft found that this number may actually be closer to 168 million.
This is in part due to connectivity’s costs. A report by New America found that, on average, Americans pay some of the highest monthly internet bills in the world. Of the 296 internet plans in New America’s dataset, only 6 met the recommended $10/month benchmark for low-income households.
In response to this crisis, the Federal Communications Commission established the Emergency Broadband Benefit program. This new program uses funds allocated in the COVID Relief Bill to help struggling households access the internet throughout the pandemic. Eligible households may receive a monthly discount of up to $50 ($75 on tribal lands) for their monthly internet bill. In addition, consumers can buy a low-cost device for between $10 and $50 from their internet company. Eligibility and qualification details can be found on the FCC website and FAQ page for consumers.
We are excited to see Congress address and allocate resources towards our current connectivity crisis. The Emergency Broadband Benefit program is certainly a step in the right direction, but it does not address the full scope of the problem. The digital divide is fueled by a lack of access to and understanding of the internet. Without digital readiness, the programs and devices intended to make life easier can go underutilized.
Our decade of experience getting people online has taught us that affordable internet does no good if there’s a lack of digital literacy. The digital divide cannot be solved with a video, free device, or generalized program. We need trained humans to provide new computer users the support and patience necessary to enhance their digital education. If you’re struggling to help your community get connected, we may be able to help. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and tell us about your needs. If you’re interested in learning more about the EBB program’s execution and impact, watch The Institute for Local Self-Reliance’s live webinar discussion.