Nice Time! Biden Announces Free Broadband For Working Families

President Biden yesterday announced that 20 internet companies will start providing low-cost broadband internet service to low-income Americans, as part of a deal growing out of last year’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. The infrastructure bill already offered $30-a-month subsidies to help low-income folks pay for internet (the subsidy increases to $75 in tribal areas). Those subsidies are available to millions of people. Now, the 20 internet providers will set up a new tier of broadband plans that cost just $30 per month, so with the subsidy, the plans will will be free for as many as 48 million families.

At a White House Rose Garden event yesterday, Biden said, “High speed internet is not a luxury any longer. It’s a necessity.” The AP adds,

Biden noted that families of four earning about $55,000 annually — or those including someone eligible for Medicaid — will get a $30 monthly credit, meaning about 40 percent of Americans will qualify.

The subsidies, through the Affordable Connectivity Program, were a top goal for Biden and other supporters of the infrastructure bill, particularly as the pandemic highlighted the “digital divide” that means low-income homes don’t have reliable internet access. That was dramatically illustrated by a viral August 2020 photo showing two little girls sitting on a curb outside a Taco Bell so they could use the restaurant’s wifi to do homework on school-issued laptops.



Biden referred to similar scenes in his remarks, noting that families had also resorted to parking outside fast food restaurants just so kids could do their homework, and adding that telemedicine had become a vital part of healthcare delivery during the pandemic. He was not afraid to get folksy, either:

You know, the need for high-speed Internet is — is a little bit like what used to be probably what my grandfather talked about: needing to have a telephone. It’s pretty consequential. And it’s only going to keep growing, this need. High-speed Internet is not a luxury any longer, it’s a necessity.

The AP notes that the 20 internet providers who agreed to lower rates for low-income folks

provide service in areas where 80% of the U.S. population, including 50% of the rural population, live, the president said. Participating companies that offer service on tribal lands are providing $75 rates in those areas, the equivalent of the federal government subsidy in those areas.

Consumers can check to see if they qualify for the new service at getinternet.gov, which also includes a link to apply for the program. Basically, it’s available to families making up to 200 percent of the poverty level, which varies with family size. People also qualify if they’re already participating in several federal anti-poverty programs, like Medicaid, SNAP (food stamps), Supplemental Security Income (SSI), free or reduced-price school lunches, and even Pell Grant education support. Full list and application linky here, or people can also call (877) 384-2575.

This could be a heckin’ big deal, as the AP points out:

“It might be a game-changer,” said Marty Newell, coordinator for Rural Broadband Policy at the Center for Rural Strategies in Whitesburg, Kentucky, where he said slow internet has plagued residents and businesses alike.

Newell said he wanted to see more about what the program will mean going forward, but that his main question is — given that increased broadband access has generally been a bipartisan issue in Congress — “What took them so long?”

The infrastructure law also provides funding to build out broadband in rural areas where internet is currently slow or unavailable, which is sorely needed so that folks can get access to Wonkette and clear out the cobwebs from watching all that Fox News. The infrastructure law provided $65 billion for expanding broadband; most of it will go to grants for states to improve their networks, even if red state governors brag about how great that is but barely mention where the money came from.

Biden also said the administration would continue working to increase competition in the broadband market, to bring lower prices to all internet users. Among those initiatives is an effort to end exclusive internet deals where landlords only allow renters to choose one internet provider in places where several options are available. And, of course, getting broadband built where it’s currently not available at all.

All told, this is pretty damn good for America.

[AP / White House / FCC / WaPo / Photo: Nenad Stojkovic, Creative Commons License 2.0]

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