The internet has become a key facet to life during the pandemic, but access still lags in many parts of the country.
To help people afford high-speed internet, the Federal Communications Commission has set up the Emergency Broadband Benefit.
The $3.2 billion program helps reduce prices for high-speed internet services to people who have experienced financial setbacks during the pandemic or are struggling to get by.
Lupe Wissel is state director of AARP Idaho.
“What we have learned from the COVID pandemic is that the access to high-[speed] internet is not a luxury,” said Wissel. “It’s really a necessity.”
About 70% of Idahoans have access to broadband internet, but gaps in service are greater for people in rural areas and living on tribal lands.
The Emergency Broadband Benefit is available now and offers up to $50 per month off internet services and up to $75 per month off for households on tribal lands.
The program also offers up to $100 off the purchase of a laptop, desktop computer or tablet through participating service providers.
Wissel said internet access has been important in a number of settings, such as helping people work from home, and especially for keeping people connected with family.
“Nursing homes, for example, and families that live out in rural communities needing to make contact with their loved ones during that time of need,” said Wissel. “You’re also looking at telehealth – being able to access your doctor or the nurses and being able to do that from your home.”
Folks who qualify include people who participate in certain federal benefits programs, such as Medicaid and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, and households that experienced a substantial loss of income because of the pandemic.
The FCC has a list of participating service providers and people can apply through those providers.