New Law Makes Many Active Duty, Vets and Survivors Eligible for Free or Discounted Broadband Internet

Child using a tablet computer

Active duty members, veterans and survivors may be eligible for free or discounted internet, and up to a $100 discount on a computer, thanks to a new program from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

The Emergency Broadband Benefit Program is a $3.2 billion federal initiative created by Congress to help lower the cost of high-speed internet for low-income Americans during the COVID-19 pandemic.

To be eligible for the program, a household or household member must:

  • Have an income that is at or below 135% of the federal poverty guidelines or participate in SNAP, Medicaid or Lifeline;
  • Participate in the free and reduced-price school lunch or breakfast program;
  • Have received a federal Pell Grant during the current year;
  • Have experienced a substantial loss of income due to job loss or furlough since Feb. 29, 2020, with a total 2020 income at or below $99,000 for single filers or $198,000 for joint filers; or
  • Meet the eligibility criteria for a participating provider's existing low-income or COVID-19 program.

For a family of four in most of the country, an income equal to 135% of the poverty level is $35,775; for a family of two, that amount is $23,517. Income limits are higher for Alaska and Hawaii. See the Department of Health and Human Services website to calculate other levels.

For the purposes of this program, income includes:

  • Salary or earnings
  • Unemployment compensation
  • Social Security
  • Veterans' benefits
  • Survivor benefits
  • Pension or retirement income

However, families who exceed the federal poverty level still may be eligible for the program if at least one member of the family meets another criteria, such as receiving a Pell Grant, receiving SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program -- commonly referred to as food stamps) or is attending a school where every student receives free or reduced-price lunches.

Families who suffered a substantial loss of income in the past 12 months are also eligible, even if they make more than the poverty level.

Participants approved for the program will receive up to a $50 monthly discount on qualifying high-speed internet from their provider, they may also receive up to a $100 discount for a laptop, desktop or tablet computer purchased from their internet service provider. Those who seek to receive the discount on a computer must pay at least $10 but less than $50 after the discount is applied. Each participating household is limited to only one internet and one computer discount in all situations.

A list of participating internet service providers can be found on the FCC website.

The temporary program is scheduled to end either when the money runs out or six months after the COVID-19 emergency is declared officially over, whichever is sooner.

"Families in every corner of the country have been struggling to get online throughout this pandemic,’’ Jessica Rosenworcel, acting chairwoman of the FCC, said in a news release. “For those families, we now say help is around the corner. In less than two weeks, we will have a new way for disconnected Americans to access the internet to carry out their day-to-day life, so they can reach the virtual classroom, take advantage of telehealth and seek new employment opportunities. I'm proud of the work we've done as an agency to get this program off the ground in record time."

The program began on May 12, 2021. Visit the official program website for more information.

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