LEXINGTON, Ky. – Nearly 92% of Kentuckians have access to broadband internet. A new plan announced by the Federal Communications Commission aims to ensure those that can get it can pay for it. 

What You Need To Know

  • $3.2 billion program approved this past December

  • Allows qualifying households to get discount on internet

  • Some could be eligible for $100 toward purchase of a computer

  • When program begins not yet announced

The FCC finalized this past December a $3.2 billion program called the Emergency Broadband Benefit to provide a monthly discount for internet access to low-income Americans struggling to pay for internet service during the pandemic. According to the FCC, this new benefit will connect eligible households to jobs, critical healthcare services and virtual classrooms. Congress later approved the emergency subsidies in December as part of the relief-and-stimulus package.

“The first-of-its-kind emergency program aims to support families who are at or near the poverty line, workers who have recently lost their jobs, and students who receive some federal assistance to subsidize their higher-education costs,” according to an article in The Washington Post. “Many of these Americans will see their internet bills reduced by as much as $50 a month in credits paid to their internet service providers, and residents of tribal areas are eligible for even larger discounts.”

Discounts are limited to one per household. Some families may also be eligible for a one-time credit of $100 to help them purchase a laptop, desktop computer, or tablet from participating providers if they contribute $10-$50 toward the purchase price. They will have to apply to receive the aid, which will be paid directly to internet providers that register with the U.S. government and obtain permission to participate. Companies are not required to accept the benefits, according to the details of the plan.

Acting FCC Director Jessica Rosenworcel said the plan was born from a concern about poor and rural students’ relative lack of internet and hopes the new program will help close the “homework gap,” Alyson Klein wrote for Education Week.

“We need to use all available tools to get 100% of us connected in this country, and this program is an essential part of making that happen,” Rosenworcel said.

There are several caveats to get approved, but many Kentucky residents will likely qualify. Conditions for approval include households with at least one member who qualifies for the FCC’s existing Lifeline support, which serves low-income families, including those on Medicaid or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Households with children that qualify for free or reduced-price school meal programs during the current or previous school year and recipients of Pell grants for postsecondary education are also eligible. Households that have suffered a substantial loss of income since Feb. 29, 2020, if their total income for last year fell below $99,000 for single filers and $198,000 for joint filers and households that meet eligibility criteria for another low-income or coronavirus-discount program from a participating provider are eligible as well.

Since 2010, Kentucky’s broadband data and development have been fueled by federal grants amounting to $5,302,717, which have gone toward the Commonwealth of Kentucky Office of Technology. More than $500,000 in federal grant funding has gone toward expanding broadband infrastructure within the state.

More recently, the state-run KentuckyWired program has been launched with the goal of “constructing over 3,000 miles of high-speed, high-capacity fiber optic cable in every county in Kentucky.” A June 2020 survey of parents of Kentucky students in grades K-12 revealed a high percentage of their homes already have a computer, laptop, or tablet the student can use for educational purposes. Just 6% of those households did not have internet.

A start date for the Emergency Broadband Benefit has not yet been established. The program’s start date will be published on www.fcc.gov/broadbandbenefit when it is announced.

Editor's Note: Charter, the parent company of Spectrum News, is a provider of broadband in Kentucky. The companies participating in the program have not been named.