Whether you’re referring to an individual’s personal needs or their work-related responsibilities, the Internet has become an essential component to most processes. Unfortunately, financial limitations often make sufficient connectivity unattainable for many. This is why the Federal Communications Commission stepped in last month to provide some assistance.
On Thursday, February 25th, the FCC unanimously voted to give low-income households a discount on broadband internet service as a $3.2 billion part of the $900 billion that Congress earmarked for coronavirus relief in December. With up to $50 available to these households (or $75 for those on tribal lands) each month and a one-time $100 discount on a computer or tablet, this program will hopefully assist people in staying safe as the pandemic drags on.
Considering that the average bill for stand-alone broadband service was calculated to be around $66 per month by the Wall Street Journal, it should come as no surprise that this is too much for many households to swing. Laying the numbers out like this makes it clear that the Internet is a costly investment, even in the best of times.
The list of eligible households covers those that are already receiving low-income Internet benefits or pandemic relief recipients, as well as those who are eligible for free and reduced school lunches, Medicaid, SNAP, and Pell Grant recipients, and anyone who found themselves unemployed by the pandemic.
Set to open up in a few short months, this program isn’t without its flaws. First of all, the $3.2 billion won’t last very long when you divide it up amongst 117 million households that meet the eligibility requirements. Once that $3.2 billion is gone, the program is slated to end.
This program also does little to address another, arguably larger issue—the fact that millions of families don’t have any reliable means of accessing broadband at all. With so many now working and learning remotely, we’ll likely see some considerable impacts due to this coming to the surface.
While the Federal Communications Commission has estimated that 18 million people lack reliable enough connections to access the Internet from home, the method they used to measure would allow these figures to be inaccurately skewed.
The reason is this: these figures are based on ZIP code-based census blocks. In order to be counted as broadband-compatible, only a single household needs to have such Internet services available within the block. However, in sparsely-populated areas it isn’t uncommon for census blocks to stretch hundreds of square miles, indicating that this metric is far from effective. Hopefully, this discount will be the first step to a more accessible Internet service with more equity for all, as the need has never been more well-defined.
Here, we’ll turn it over to you: are these steps the start of effective change? Let us know in the comments what you think about it.