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Internet Subsidy Gives $50 A Month Discounts For Low-Income Americans

Financially strapped American families are now eligible for an emergency discount on their internet service under a COVID-19 relief program that went into effect on Wednesday.

The Emergency Broadband Benefit program from the Federal Communications Commission provides a discount of up to $50 per month toward broadband service for eligible households and up to $75 per month for households on qualifying Tribal lands. It also gives low-income families a $100 discount for the purchase of a laptop or desktop computer, or a tablet. However, the FCC reports, Cox and Windstream are the only providers participating in this benefit so far.

The pandemic has underscored the importance of having a reliable internet connection, with adults dependent on it for work and young people reliant on it for their education. Expanding high-speed internet access is a priority for the Biden administration which has placed Vice President Harris in charge of the endeavor. The White House has asked Congress for $100 billion to make broadband more affordable and to carry it to rural areas that have been left behind by the tech advances.

"High-speed internet service is vital for families to take advantage of today's health, education, and workplace opportunities," Jessica Rosenworcel, the acting chair of the FCC, said in a statement. "And the discount for laptops and desktop computers will continue to have positive impact even after this temporary discount program wraps up."

The $3.2 billion temporary pandemic subsidy was approved by Congress late last year but it's taken months for the FCC to finalize the rules of the program.

Only those Americans who already qualify for free and reduced-price school lunch programs, are recipients of a federal Pell Grant, experienced a substantial loss of income since early 2020, or meet eligibility criteria for participating providers' existing low-income or COVID-19 programs are eligible to apply for the benefits. People can access the funds until the money runs out or up to six months after the Department of Health and Human Services declares an end to the pandemic.

Earlier this week the FCC approved the Emergency Connectivity Fund, which sets aside nearly $7.2 billion to help schools and libraries provide devices and connectivity to students, school staff, and library patrons during the pandemic.

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Vanessa Romo is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She covers breaking news on a wide range of topics, weighing in daily on everything from immigration and the treatment of migrant children, to a war-crimes trial where a witness claimed he was the actual killer, to an alleged sex cult. She has also covered the occasional cat-clinging-to-the-hood-of-a-car story.