A revamped and expanded federal program will help more income-qualified customers lower their monthly internet or wireless bills.
The Federal Communications Commission’s Affordable Connectivity Program gives income-qualified households a $30 credit and households on qualifying tribal lands a $75 credit toward their internet service.
The coronavirus pandemic forced schools and employers to shift to remote learning and work, but many households, especially in rural areas of Wisconsin, found high-speed internet service hard to find or costly. In response, local, tribal, state and federal governments have turned their attention to expanding access to high-speed internet service.
The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act approved in November provides $14.2 billion to the program, which modifies, extends and expands upon its predecessor, the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program, or EBB. EBB was originally launched to help households dealing with a loss of income or job loss due to the pandemic.
EBB provided assistance with internet costs to about 9 million U.S. households. Its participants will need to transfer to the Affordable Connectivity Program, or ACP, by March 1, according to the FCC, and may be contacted by the Universal Services Administrative Co. to re-verify their eligibility.
Service providers expect more households will qualify for the ACP based on the changes to eligibility requirements. But you have to apply with the feds and, possibly, your home or mobile service provider to get the credit.
Here’s what you need to know:
Do we qualify?
The ACP expands the number of households receiving assistance by expanding ways households can qualify for the program, said Tom Monahan, vice president and general manager of AT&T’s greater lakes region.
“This is a larger net out there, so more folks will be able to get it,” Monahan said. “As we talk about the digital divide, this is a great program for customers to take advantage of. I just hope people understand … that more people qualify.”
You can claim the benefit if your household:
- Has an income at or below 200% of the federal poverty rate, which is $25,700 for an individual and $52,200 for a family of four;
- Participates in assistance programs like Medicaid, public housing, Women and Infant Children (WIC), Social Security or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP);
- Participates in tribal programs such as the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ general assistance or tribal food distribution programs;
- Is, or was, eligible to receive free and reduced-price school lunches or breakfast in the 2019-20, 2020-21 or 2021-2022 school years;
- Received a Pell Grant during the current year; or
- Meets eligibility criteria for a participating provider’s low-income program.
Households located on tribal land can find details on eligibility on the ACP’s Enhanced Tribal Benefit site.
What do we get?
The new program will provide a $30 discount each month toward internet service provided by a participating provider. Households on qualifying tribal lands can receive up to $75 per month.
EBB provided eligible households with $50 per month, for comparison.
Additionally, the ACP allows eligible households to claim a one-time discount of up to $100 to purchase a laptop, desktop or tablet from participating providers if the household contributes $10 to $50 toward the cost.
Is my internet service provider in?
A complete list of Wisconsin fixed and mobile broadband internet service providers can be found here. It appears most of Wisconsin’s major internet service providers participate in the program.
Not all service providers have decided about ACP participation yet, so check with your provider to be certain. Nsight Telservices and Cellcom, for example, are listed as participating providers on the FCC site because they participated in the EBB program. The parent company of Cellcom and Nsight has not made a decision yet on the ACP.
“Cellcom and Nsight Telservices are evaluating participation in the Affordable Connectivity Program and are awaiting additional details on program requirements from the FCC,” said Tammy VanDenBusch, a senior communications specialist with Nsight.
Is this the same service everyone else gets?
One of the added perks of the ACP over its predecessor is plan flexibility. Monahan said the credit can be applied to any internet service plan an AT&T or Cricket Wireless customer may have.
“It’s available at all the speeds we have to offer,” Monahan said. An extra bonus: The credit should appear on customers’ bills within a month or two.
What do I have to do?
You need apply to participate in the ACP to determine whether you are eligible.
You can apply online at acpbenefit.org or download a mail-in application to send in.
You also will need to contact your existing internet service provider. Many of the larger companies will have their own application to fill out to get the discount. Monahan encouraged anyone who is not sure if they qualify to apply and find out.
“We want to make sure everyone is taking advantage of this program and how important it is that everyone has access to high-speed internet,” he said.