By Aamer Madhani and Will Weissert | The Associated Press
President Joe Biden announced on Monday that 20 internet companies have agreed to provide discounted service to low-income people, a program that could effectively make tens of millions of households eligible for free service through an already existing federal subsidy. .
“Broadband internet is no longer a luxury. It is a necessity,” Biden said during a sunny rose garden event with representatives from participating companies, as well as members of Congress.
The $1 trillion infrastructure package passed by Congress last year included $14.2 billion in funding for the Affordable Connectivity Program, which provides monthly grants of $30 ($75 in tribal areas ) on Internet service to millions of low-income households.
With the new internet service provider commitment, some 48 million households will be eligible for $30 monthly plans for 100 megabits per second or higher service, making internet service fully paid for with the help from the government if they register with one of the providers. participating in the program.
Biden noted that families of four earning about $55,000 a year — or those including someone who is eligible for Medicaid — will receive a $30 monthly credit, meaning about 40% of Americans will be eligible.
“This is a case where big business has stepped up. We’re trying to get others to do the same,” Biden told the crowd to loud applause. “It’s going to change people’s lives.”
Proponents were cautiously optimistic.
“It could be a game-changer,” said Marty Newell, rural broadband policy coordinator at the Center for Rural Strategies in Whitesburg, Kentucky, where he said slow internet has plagued residents and businesses.
Newell said he wanted to know more about what the program would mean going forward, but his main question is — given that increasing broadband access has typically been a bipartisan issue in Congress — “What Took Them So Long”
Biden, during his run for the White House and pushing for the infrastructure bill, made expanding high-speed internet access to rural and low-income areas a priority. He spoke repeatedly about low-income families struggling to find reliable Wi-Fi, so their children could participate in distance education and do homework at the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, including , he said on Monday, of families going to McDonald’s parking lots for wireless internet access inside the restaurant.
The 20 internet companies that have agreed to lower prices for eligible consumers provide service in areas where 80% of the US population lives, including 50% of the rural population, the president said. Participating companies that provide service on tribal lands offer rates of $75 in those areas, the equivalent of the federal government subsidy in those areas.
Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris also met with telecommunications leaders, members of Congress and others on Monday to highlight efforts to improve high-speed internet access for low-income households. The president said a top priority going forward would be to increase competition among internet service providers in many parts of the country, noting that millions of Americans live in single-provider areas. and are currently paying higher prices because of it.
Participating providers are Allo Communications, AltaFiber (and Hawaiian Telecom), Altice USA (Optimum and Suddenlink), Astound, AT&T, Breezeline, Comcast, Comporium, Frontier, IdeaTek, Cox Communications, Jackson Energy Authority, MediaCom, MLGC, Spectrum (Charter Communications), Starry, Verizon (Fios only), Vermont Telephone Co., Vexus Fiber and Wow! Internet, cable and television.
U.S. households are eligible for grants through the Affordable Connectivity Program if their income is at or below 200% of the federal poverty level, or if a family member participates in one of several programs, including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance (SNAP), Federal Public Housing Assistance (FPHA), and Veterans Pension and Survivors Benefit.