WASHINGTON ( Associated Press) — President Joe Biden announced Monday that 20 internet companies have agreed to offer a discounted service plan to low-income people, a program that could bring tens of millions of households free service through of an existing federal subsidy.
“High-speed internet is no longer a luxury. It’s a necessity,” Biden said during a White House event where he was joined by representatives from participating companies and members of Congress.
The $1 trillion infrastructure package passed by Congress last year includes $14.2 billion in funding for the Affordable Connectivity Program, which provides grants of $30 per month ($75 in tribal areas) for internet service to million low-income households.
With the new commitment from internet providers, nearly 48 million households will be eligible for $30 monthly plans with 100 megabits per second speed or higher, whereby internet service will be fully paid for by the government subsidy if you contract with one of the providers that participate in the program.
Biden noted that families of four earning close to $55,000 a year, or those with a Medicaid-eligible member, will receive a $30 monthly credit, meaning about 40% of Americans will qualify.
“This is a case where the big companies stepped up. We are trying to get others to do the same,” Biden said to sustained applause from attendees. “It’s going to change people’s lives.”
Activists expressed moderate optimism.
“It could be a game changer,” said Marty Newell, coordinator of Rural Broadband Policy at the Center for Rural Strategies in Whitesburg, Kentucky, where he said slow internet speeds have affected residents and businesses alike.
Newell said he wanted to see more about what the show will mean in the future. But he pointed out that, considering that increasing broadband access has generally been a bipartisan issue in Congress, his main question is: “Why did they take so long?”
During his presidential bid and promotion of the infrastructure bill, Biden made expanding high-speed internet access in rural and low-income areas a priority. The president has repeatedly spoken out about low-income families who struggled to find a reliable Wi-Fi connection so their children could take classes remotely and complete their homework early in the coronavirus pandemic, including, he said Monday, to families driving to McDonald’s parking lots to access the restaurant’s wireless internet.
The 20 companies that have agreed to lower their rates for eligible consumers provide service in areas where 80% of the country’s population lives, including 50% of the rural population, the president said. Participating companies serving tribal lands offer rates of $75 in those areas, the equivalent of the federal government subsidy for those areas.
Los proveedores participantes son Allo Communications, AltaFiber (y Hawaiian Telecom), Altice USA (Optimum y Suddenlink), Astound, AT&T, Breezeline, Comcast, Comporium, Frontier, IdeaTek, Cox Communications, Jackson Energy Authority, MediaCom, MLGC, Spectrum (Charter Communications), Starry, Verizon (únicamente Fios), Vermont Telephone Co., Vexus Fiber y Wow! Internet, Cable, and TV.
American families are eligible to receive subsidies through the Affordable Connectivity Program if their income is at or below 200% of the federal poverty level, or if a member of their family participates in one of several programs, including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance (SNAP), the Federal Public Housing Assistance Program (FPHA), and veterans and survivors pensions.