Consumer Action hosts webinar on Emergency Broadband Benefit

The webinar was attended by 212 staff members of community agencies.
Published: Friday, September 03, 2021

By Linda Williams

The COVID-19 pandemic upended classrooms and campuses across the country, forcing millions of students to transition to remote learning in an effort to slow the spread of the virus. For many students, this meant logging in to online classes and accessing assignments through their home internet service, but for an estimated 16.9 million of these students, it meant coming face-to-face with the reality of the digital divide. Many of these students were locked out of the educational system because their families lack two essential elements for online learning: high-speed home internet access and a computer. Many lower-income seniors and laid-off workers faced the same obstacle when they tried to access telemedicine and file for unemployment benefits online.

On May 12, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) began accepting applications for the Emergency Broadband Benefit (EBB), a temporary program designed to help close the digital divide by allocating $3.2 billion for eligible households to pay for internet service and internet-enabled devices.

2021 is presenting an unprecedented opportunity to close the digital divide, thanks in part to the federal stimulus package, which includes funds for broadband; actions by the FCC, like the EBB program and the connectivity fund (focused on schools and libraries); and actions by individual states, said Amina Fazlullah, director of equity policy at Common Sense Media. Fazlullah joined David Savolaine, consumer education and outreach specialist for the FCC, at Consumer Action’s July 20 webinar on the Emergency Broadband Benefit program.

Fazlullah told the audience that COVID-19 provoked a substantial change in society’s understanding of the digital divide and the need to close it. This need exists not only for vulnerable populations, but also for businesses and institutions, which are beginning to realize that if they want to serve their citizens and their communities efficiently and resiliently, they will need to rely on technology, and that means getting everyone connected to the internet.

Savolaine focused his presentation on the essence of the EBB program—the benefits, who’s eligible and how to apply. The temporary program provides a discount of up to $50 per month (up to $75 for households on qualifying Tribal Lands) on broadband service for households that meet income limits or participate in a range of public assistance or benefits programs, as well as a one-time discount of up to $100 to purchase a laptop, a desktop computer or a tablet from participating providers. Savolaine outlined the three ways an eligible household can apply for the EBB: by contacting a participating provider, visiting, or mailing in an application with proof of eligibility.

The webinar was attended by 212 staff members of community agencies. “This was a great webinar, very informative,” noted one attendee. “It has provided much-needed information and resources that will help most if not all the clients we serve. Thank you for sharing these great opportunities as always.” You can view the webinar on Consumer Action’s YouTube channel.

Despite this and other efforts to get the word out to consumers about the EBB, the Universal Service Administrative Company, the agency that administers the Lifeline and EBB programs, reports that, as of Aug. 1, only 4.1 million of the 36 million eligible households are enrolled. Consumer Action has published a new fact sheet, Lifeline and the Emergency Broadband Benefit: Discounted phone and internet for low-income households, to help inform consumers of the assistance they may be eligible to receive. The publication is available for free download in English and Spanish, and can be freely reproduced for distribution by community-based organizations. Spread the word!




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