Connectivity Counts: How Broadband Providers Are Continuing to Close the Digital Divide

A woman smiles while on a conference call

The public-health crisis of the past year has made it clear: broadband internet is an essential service. Across the nation, millions of Americans have relied on their broadband connections for work, school and to stay connected with loved ones. However, some Americans still do not have access to high-speed connections. When many schools shut down, some 10 million students – overwhelmingly lower income and students of color – began distance learning without an internet connection in their homes.

Fortunately, the broadband providers leaped into the breach, launching a series of programs in partnership with governmental agencies and community organizations to get families connected and close those gaps. And now, those same providers are working with the Federal Communications Commission in a promising new initiative: the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program.

An Emergency Program for Those In Need 

As of May 12, 2021, eligible families can begin applying for and enrolling in the new Emergency Broadband Benefit program. If your household is eligible, you can receive a discount on your broadband service and associated equipment rentals of up to $50 a month; if you are on tribal lands, the amount jumps to $75 a month. In addition, qualifying households will receive a discount of up to $100 to purchase a laptop, tablet, or desktop computer (with a co-payment of between $10 and $50). 

To make it easy to enroll, the program offers many different ways to prove eligibility, including income level, participation in a free-or-reduced price meal program, receiving a federal Pell Grant, experiencing loss of income due to job loss or furlough, or meeting the criteria for a provider’s low-income or COVID-19 program. And thanks to the active participation of the broadband industry, participating providers can be found in every state, including overseas territories.       

As the acting director of the FCC, Jessica Rosenworcel, says: “We need to use all available tools to get 100% of us connected in this country and this program is an essential part of making that happen.” 

Building on a Sound Base

The Emergency Broadband Benefit builds on a base of public-and-private sector cooperation that has been a constant throughout the crisis. Shortly after the pandemic hit, Broadband providers and the national non-profit EducationSuperHighway (ESH) partnered to launch the K-12 Bridge to Broadband, empowering cable providers to work with school districts to identify students without broadband and help their families get connected through sponsored service agreements. Thanks to $150 billion in emergency CARES Act funding, some 12,000 schools signed up within the first few months, from Chicago to Connecticut, Tulsa to Baton Rouge.

None of this expansion, however, would be possible without robust broadband infrastructure. In a year in which overall internet traffic increased some 20-50%, with videoconferencing apps hitting 700% growth, the nation’s internet infrastructure was able to handle the surge. This success story was due, in part, to nearly $300 billion invested over the last two decades in technology, engineering, a flexible network foundation, and constant upgrades. 

Working for the Consumer

Thanks to a long-term program of innovation and upgrades, the broadband industry has been able to work with private, public and non-profit partners to bridge the digital divide and bring internet to homes in need. And with the implementation of the Emergency Broadband Benefit, another important step is being taken in this effort in 2021. ‘

To find out if you or someone you know is eligible for the Emergency Broadband Benefit, visit the website and search by your location.