REGION — By the end of April, the Emergency Broadband Benefit is anticipated to go into effect, providing a $50 discount for broadband services to qualifying individuals with participating internet companies. The benefit was established by the Consolidated Appropriations Act 2021 which recognizes the increased need for connectivity posed by the coronavirus pandemic.

“The Consolidated Appropriations Act directs the Federal Communications Commission (Commission) to use that fund to establish an Emergency Broadband Benefit Program, under which eligible low-income households may receive a discount off the cost of broadband service and certain connected devices during an emergency period relating to the COVID-19 pandemic, and participating providers can receive a reimbursement for such discounts,” the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) report and order states.

According to the FCC website, eligible households must have an individual who meets one of the following criteria:

•  Qualifies for the Lifeline program;

•  Receives benefits under the free and reduced-price school lunch program or the school breakfast program, including through the USDA Community Eligibility Provision, or did so in the 2019-2020 school year;

•  Received a Federal Pell Grant during the current award year;

•  Experienced a substantial loss of income since February 29, 2020 and the household had a total income in 2020 below $99,000 for single filers and $198,000 for joint filers; or

•  Meets the eligibility criteria for a participating providers’ existing low-income or COVID-19 program.

The benefit provides an increased reimbursement, up to $75, for eligible households on tribal lands.

Participating internet providers available in the greater Franklin County area so far include GWI (Great Works Internet), CCI (Consolidated Communications), Verizon, T-Mobile, Spectrum and Redzone. Bee Line General Manager Doug Allen said the company is interested in participating and is currently reviewing the opportunity with their attorney.

For a complete list of participating companies in Maine, visit https://www.fcc.gov/emergency-broadband-benefit-providers#Maine.

The benefit program will provide reimbursements until funds are exhausted or six months after the Department of Health and Human Services declares an end to the pandemic, whichever comes first. The Consolidated Appropriations Act formed an Emergency Broadband Connectivity Fund of $3.2 billion to contribute to the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program.

The benefit also provides a reimbursement of up to $100 towards a leased laptop, desktop computer or a tablet from participating broadband companies as long as the eligible household pays more than $10 but less than $50 for the device.

The FCC has yet to establish an official start date to the program. The commission was contacted for additional information, but did not respond.

The FCC Consumer FAQ states, “The FCC is working to make the benefit available as quickly as possible, and you should be able to sign up by the end of April, 2021.  Please check our website, www.fcc.gov/broadbandbenefit, regularly for the latest information.”

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