Federal program to bridge digital divide

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought attention to disparities in technology – especially when it comes to internet access. A year later, with some Kansas Citians still working and learning from home, assistance may soon be available.

A new federal assistance program is available to help eligible Kansas City-area residents and families struggling to pay for internet service and devices during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The $3.2 billion Emergency Broadband Benefit (EBB), offered through the Federal Communications Commission and facilitated locally by the Kansas City Coalition for Digital Inclusion, provides monthly and one-time price breaks for both service and equipment from multiple providers – AT&T, Charter/Spectrum, Cricket Wireless, Comcast, T-Mobile, and Verizon, as well as PCs for People.

Eligible households can receive a discount of up to $50 a month for home internet – up to $75 monthly for those living on tribal lands – and a one-time price break of up to $100 on the purchase of a laptop, desktop computer or tablet from a participating provider. Such purchases do have a copay of $10 to $50. The program limits households to one service and one device discount each.

Charter Communications, which serves a 41-state operating area, is offering a variety of broadband options under the EBB Program, and all Spectrum Internet plans available have no modem fees, data caps or contracts and include free self-installation.

“Charter has a long track record of increasing connectivity through expanding broadband access, adoption and affordability,” said Catherine Bohigian, Charter Executive Vice President, Government Affairs. “Through our participation in the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program, we are further breaking down barriers to connectivity for American families, as part of our long-term commitment to advance access and improve broadband adoption.”

Households are eligible for the EBB benefits if a member qualifies for the Lifeline program, receives benefits under the free and reduced-price school lunch or breakfast program, has experienced a substantial loss of income since the start of the pandemic, or meets the eligibility criteria for local providers’ existing low-income programs. 

Kansas Citians can start signing up for the FCC’s EBB program on May 12. The Tech Access team at the Kansas City Public Library is available to help metro residents determine if they qualify for the $3.2 billion program.

Interested households can visit GetEmergencyBroadband.org to check their eligibility and apply for the benefits. Additional information, and assistance with signups, is available from the Kansas City Public Library. Email techaccess@kclibrary.org or call 816-701-3606.

The Emergency Broadband Benefit is temporary, lasting until funding runs out or six months after the Department of Health and Human Services declares an end to the COVID-19 health emergency.

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