(The Center Square) – Low-income households can receive a temporary discount on monthly broadband bills and receive a one-time discount on digital devices through the Emergency Broadband Benefit (EBB) Program.
“Many families have access to broadband infrastructure, but they are struggling financially at this time,” said Tim Arbeiter, the director of the office of broadband development for the Missouri Department of Economic Development during a recent webinar.
The $3.2 billion program, administered by the Federal Communications Commission, will provide a discount of up to $50 per month on broadband service and associated equipment rentals and up to $75 per month if the household is on qualifying Tribal lands. The program also provides a one-time discount of up to $100 on a laptop, tablet or desktop computer with a co-payment of more than $10 but less than $50.
A household is eligible if a member of the household meets one of the following criteria:
- Has an income that is at or below 135% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines or participates in certain assistance programs, such as SNAP, Medicaid, or Lifeline;
- Approved to receive benefits under the free and reduced-price school lunch program or the school breakfast program, including through the USDA Community Eligibility Provision in the 2019-2020 or 2020-2021 school year;
- Received a Federal Pell Grant during the current award year;
- Experienced a substantial loss of income due to job loss or furlough since Feb. 29, 2020, and the household had a total income in 2020 at or below $99,000 for single filers and $198,000 for joint filers; or
- Meets the eligibility criteria for a participating provider's existing low-income or COVID-19 program.
Arbeiter said 58 Missouri broadband companies—providing both wireless and fixed services—are participating in the program and can assist applicants until funding runs out.
“As a state, we launched a public awareness campaign last week to give our citizens information and make sure they’re engaging in this program,” Arbeiter said.
Data from the Annie E. Casey Foundation show 6% of Missouri households’ Internet service was paid by a child’s school or school district in September 2020. The amount dropped to 3% in March 2021.
The Casey Foundation also ranked states by the percentage of households in which internet and a computer or digital device are usually or always available to children for educational purposes. Missouri was in a five-way tie for 25th with Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota and Kansas.
During a ribbon-cutting event for the expansion of a fiber-optic network in Lincoln, Warren and St. Charles counties, Gov. Mike Parson said broadband accessibility will be a priority for the state.
“Once upon a time, everybody didn't have electricity in their homes and over the years we conquered and mastered that,” Parson said earlier this month. “It is our time to make sure every Missouri citizen has the ability to get on the Internet. If you can put lights in everybody's house, you can put broadband in everybody’s house. Everybody should be on the same, even playing field.
“Having internet is just as much problem in St. Peters or St. Charles as it is in southeast Missouri. We have to do a better job for everyday people, but we’re headed in the right direction.”