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FCC approves broadband stipend for low-income families hit by pandemic

Federal Communications Commission will give out $50 to $75 per month to low-income families and people laid off because of the pandemic

FCC acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel appears before Congress in 2018.
FCC acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel appears before Congress in 2018. (CQ Roll Call file photo)

The Federal Communications Commission voted Thursday to establish a program that will provide a $50 monthly stipend for broadband internet access to individuals struggling during the pandemic.

The stipend, provided by the new Emergency Broadband Benefit Program, will increase to $75 per month for people living on tribal lands, and includes a one-time, $100 discount on a computer or tablet.

Congress created the program last December and included $3.2 billion for it in the fiscal 2021 omnibus spending package. Individuals who qualify for the program include those who lost their jobs or were furloughed because of the pandemic and low-income families, including recipients of Medicaid, food stamps and free or reduced school lunch. Pell Grant recipients also qualify.

Jessica Rosenworcel, the FCC’s acting chairwoman, said the stipends would help those at risk of “digital disconnection” at a time when broadband access is the key to connecting with the outside world.

“It will help those sitting in cars in parking lots just to catch a Wi-Fi signal to go online for work,” Rosenworcel said in a statement. “It will help those lingering outside the library with a laptop just to get a wireless signal for remote learning. It will help those who worry about choosing between paying a broadband bill and paying rent or buying groceries.”

Rosenworcel estimated the program would be open to eligible households within 60 days.

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