The past year has proven how vital the internet is for remote learning, working from home, and staying sane during lockdowns. As part of the stimulus package passed in December, Congress also set aside $3.2 billion for emergency broadband subsidies. Starting today, if you’ve lost a job during the pandemic or are facing other financial hardships, you can apply to the FCC’s Emergency Broadband Benefit program to receive up to $50 monthly toward your internet bill and $100 toward a new laptop, desktop, or tablet.
A surprising number of people may qualify for EBB. You can check out a comprehensive list here, but here’s the gist. You qualify if:
- Your household income is at or below 135% of the federal poverty guidelines.
- You lost a job, or experienced a “substantial loss” in income, since Feb. 29, 2020, and had a total household income in 2020 of up to $99,000 for single filers and $198,000 for joint filers.
- You participate in any Tribal-specific programs or live on federally recognized Tribal land. In this case, the benefit is $75 per month.
- You received a Pell Grant or have a child/dependent who receives free or reduced-price lunch at school in the 2019-2020 or 2020-2021 school year.
- You are already eligible for existing low-income or covid-19 programs, like SNAP, Medicaid, etc. (Check here for a full list of qualifying programs.) If you receive Lifeline benefits, you automatically qualify.
Some notes: You can only get one $50 discount per household, but that doesn’t mean multiple people living in the same apartment building are ineligible. You may just have to talk to your building manager or ISP.
You can either contact your internet provider, apply online, or by mail. If you opt for mail, you can print the application in English or Spanish. You can also view instructions on how to apply in 9 additional languages here.
At this point, you’ve got to gather documentation that proves eligibility. That can be an official layoff or furlough notice, unemployment application or statement of benefits, pay stubs, tax returns, etc. You can find a complete list here. If you choose to send by mail, you might want to send copies of your documentation along with the application to speed up the process. The mailing address is:
Emergency Broadband Support Center
PO Box 7081
London, KY 40742
Once everything is submitted, you can then use the FCC’s search tool to find participating internet service providers in your area.
No worries, the FCC also has an extensive EBB FAQ section. You can also email EBBHelp@usac.org, call 833-511-0311 between 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. ET. That said, here’s a summary of some of the key things you should know:
For starters, this is only a temporary benefit. The FCC says it’ll last until the fund runs out of money, or six months after the Department of Health and Human Services officially declares the covid-19 pandemic is over—whichever comes first. Since the former is more likely, if you think you’re eligible you should apply ASAP.
Another thing to note is that you’re not getting paid the $50 directly. The FCC sends the money to your ISP, which then deducts that amount from your bill. This is why it’s crucial to make sure you’re using a participating ISP. If you pick a plan that costs less than $50, you also don’t get to pocket the extra. Likewise, if your plan costs more than $50 you have to pay the remaining amount. If you get broadband as part of a bundle, that $50 can be put towards broadband/voice/texting/router or hotspot rental fees, etc.
Also, that $100 toward a new device? That has to go through your ISP—so don’t expect to buy a new gadget and then send the receipt to the FCC yourself. The gist is the ISP can get reimbursed $100 if they provide you with a connected device, so long as you also contribute a copay of $10-$50 for said gadget. Each household is limited to one device, and the money can only be put toward a laptop, desktop, or tablet. Large phones or phablets don’t count.