Temporary federal aid helps pay Internet bills

Connection was more important than ever in 2020, but for many, it was hard to find. What was once an easy visit with family or friends became a complicated endeavor that took place in front of a computer screen. And if your home or community lacked access to high-speed Internet, then the opportunity to connect became even more frustrating.

New research from AARP found that while more older adults (44 percent) now view tech more positively as a way to stay connected than they did before COVID-19, greater adoption and reliance on technology is uneven, with 15 percent of adults 50-plus not having access to any type of Internet, and 60 percent saying the cost of high-speed internet is an obstacle.

In Washington, 7 percent of our total population doesn’t have access to high-speed Internet. Of those people, 32 percent are in rural areas and 20 percent are on tribal lands.

However, a recently launched program from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) might help Washingtonians lower their Internet bills.

The Emergency Broadband Benefit (EBB) is a temporary, $3.2 billion program that will provide a discount of up to $50 per month for high-speed nternet services for eligible households and a discount of up to $75 per month for households on tribal lands. Those that are eligible may also receive a one-time discount of up to $100 for a laptop, desktop computer, or tablet purchased through a participating provider.

The FCC is defining an eligible household through several criteria. Individuals who qualify for the Lifeline program and those on Medicaid, receive SNAP benefits, or participate in other federal assistance programs may be eligible for the monthly discount. Washingtonians who experienced a substantial loss of income since February 29, 2020—whose household had a total income below $99,000 for single filers and $198,000 for joint filers—are encouraged to apply for the program, as well.

While the EBB will help many households that have experienced financial setbacks recently, the program is only short-term. Once the allocated funds are gone, or six months after the federal government declares an end to the COVID-19 pandemic, the program will end. Individuals will receive notice before the program concludes, and the FCC guarantees at least a 50 percent benefit in the final month so participants have enough time to decide the best course of action for their Internet needs.

“So much of our lives have moved online this past year,” said Doug Shadel, AARP Washington director. “The importance of connecting people, especially older adults, to affordable, high-speed Internet goes beyond what we’ve seen during the pandemic. Older adults see the possibilities that stem from being connected online, and they want to learn more and take advantage of those opportunities.”

For more information about EBB, visit www.aarp.org/EBB or call 1-833-511-0311.


Cathy MacCaul, who wrote this article, is AARP Washington’s advocacy director.