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Alaskans Get Free or Discounted Internet Service

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Federal Communications Commission
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Across Alaska internet users are being offered $75-per-month discounts as pandemic relief. The subsidy on internet service is available for low-income households or those who lost money in the pandemic.

It’s called the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program, but it is not just broadband. Ed Bartholme, Deputy Chief of the Federal Communications Commission's Consumer & Governmental Affairs Bureau says the program throws the net wide.

“There’s a variety of service types that are included in the program -- there’s fixed wireless, there’s wired for homes that have wired connectivity as an option, there is mobile which is much more akin to cell phone service.”

It is a consumer discount off monthly service charges. A household is eligible if someone qualifies for the Lifeline program, receives assistance such as free and reduce-priced school lunches or a Pell Grant, or experienced a substantial loss of income due to pandemic. Eligibility is defined on the website for the program, getemergencybroadband.org. There are also special terms for Tribal residents.

The program is set up to give eligible households a $50 per month discount, but most Alaskans could get $75.

?“I think that’s one important thing for Alaska listeners to know, the benefit is up to $75 a month for those household, as opposed to the $50 a month discount.”

The money came out of the huge Consolidated Appropriations Act passed by Congress in December. One aspect was focused on how much families relied on internet connectivity while they were staying apart from others to prevent from spreading disease. Bartholme says it took awhile to stand up the program, but for his agency, it was record time.

“Congress instructed the FCC to standing up a completely new program that is critically important , critically timely to the current environment and the current situation, but making it live and real where people can actually start to collect benefits from it.”

It won’t pay fees that are already owed, but the discounts start this week. (May 12.)

This pandemic-related program will continue until the $3.2 billion in federal funding runs out or six months after the Department of Health and Human Services declares an end to the pandemic.

The FCC website shows all the Alaska providers who are participating; the larger ones like GCI, Alaska Communications, and MTA, but also Cordova, Copper Valley, Ketchikan and Cricket – 26 in the state. It shows that three providers are also giving discounts on devices as part of the program. Bartholme says there are consumer protections built into the program.

“So, one of the big things we wanted to prevent and make sure it didn’t happen, was that people who needed this sort of assistance weren’t stuck with sort of an episode of ‘bill shock’ when the money runs out.”

Customers can sign up by contacting a participating provider, enroll online at https://getemergencybroadband.org/, or mail in an application. If you are listening to this story on the radio and don’t have internet service yet, you can call (833) 511-0311.

A household is eligible if a member of the household meets any of the criteria below:

  • Has an income that is 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 free and reduced-price school lunch program or the school breakfast program, including through the USDA Community Eligibility Provision in the 2019-2020 or 2020-2021 school year;
  • Received a Federal Pell Grant during the current award 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; or
  • Meets the eligibility criteria for a participating provider's existing low-income or COVID-19 program.