Special to Iredell Free News
RALEIGH — North Carolinians can get critical help to pay for high-speed internet from a $3.2 billion federal program opening in May for families and households working, learning and shopping from home during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Many North Carolina families struggle to afford high-speed internet,” Gov. Roy Cooper said. “The Emergency Broadband Benefit Program will help bridge the digital divide so that people in need can get online to talk with their doctors, learn remotely, find or do work, and connect with friends and family.”
The Emergency Broadband Benefit Program (EBBP) gives a discount of up to $50 a month to a household’s internet bill. That increases to $75 a month for those living on tribal lands. Eligible households can also get a one-time discount of $100 toward the purchase of a laptop, tablet or desktop computer through participating providers.
Enrollment in EBBP will open on May 12.
Households with an income at or less than 135 percent of federal poverty guidelines are eligible for the EBBP. A household also qualifies if at least one member participates in a federal benefits program such as Medicaid, SNAP, or Lifeline, or receives benefits under the free and reduced-price school lunch program, lost a job or a significant amount of income in the past year, received a Federal Pell Grant, or is part of an internet service provider’s low-income or COVID-19 program.
“Affordability is one barrier among the inequities that prevent numerous North Carolina residents and households from accessing high-speed, high-quality internet,” said Jim Weaver, N.C. Department of Information Technology (NCDIT) secretary and state chief information officer. “This benefit can spur demand for building infrastructure to bring that service into areas of the state that have little or no access to broadband.”
Administered by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the program was created by Congress in the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 to help Americans access healthcare, jobs, classrooms and businesses during the pandemic. Many types of providers, including those offering landline and wireless broadband, are offering the discount. The FCC gives extensive guidance for providers seeking to participate.
The NCDIT Broadband Infrastructure Office (BIO) offers guidance on how North Carolina households can apply for the benefit and how providers in the state can participate in it.
The FCC’s consumer site has detailed information on how households can qualify and apply for the program. Households can also see a list of participating providers in their state. Gov. Cooper has called on internet service providers in North Carolina to participate in the program so that more North Carolinians can afford to get online.
The EBBP will end six months after the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services declares the pandemic is over or when the program uses all its $3.2 billion funding, whichever happens first.
Providers must notify consumers at least 30 days before the discount ends and must let consumers opt-in to continue service before charging them a higher rate.
To help get high-speed internet service to even more North Carolinians, NCDIT’s Broadband Infrastructure Office is currently conducting a survey to gather better data on broadband availability and quality in the state. All North Carolinians are encouraged to take the five-minute survey by visiting ncbroadband.gov/survey or calling 919-750-0553.