What Is the EBB Program?
What if you didn’t have to worry about connecting to the internet?
It’s pretty much impossible to live and work in today’s world without connectivity. However, when you’re going through financial difficulties, it can also be pretty much impossible to pay that high monthly internet bill.
Some good news in these trying times is that free or cheap government internet will soon be accessible to millions of Americans thanks to the Emergency Broadband Benefit. What is the EBB program, and what can it do for you? Keep reading to discover the answers!
What Is the EBB Program?
Administered by the FCC, the EBB program is part of the economic stimulus package approved by lawmakers on December 20th, 2020. The broad goal of these programs is to help Americans impacted by the COVID-19 global pandemic. As a follow-up to the approved legislation, the FCC officially established the EBB program on February 25, 2021.
The EBB program is intended to help citizens get or maintain access to broadband internet even if their financial situation makes paying for this service difficult or impossible. To this end, the government has invested $7 billion to help students, families, and unemployed people maintain their internet access. Of that amount, $3.2 billion has been allocated for the EBB emergency relief fund.
The USAC and EBB
As you might imagine, it takes a variety of organizations to launch and support a program of the size and scope of the EBB program.
Specifically, lawmakers rely on the FCC to administer the program. In turn, the FCC is working with the Universal Service Administrative Company, the same organization that administers the Lifeline program.
This is not an accident because the existing Lifeline program provides a template for the EBB to both customers and providers.
As a result, the EBB will use tools such as the National Lifeline Accountability Database and Lifeline Claims System to process claims, communicate with applicants, and reimburse ISPs.
Now that you know a bit more about the EBB program, keep reading to discover how you can benefit from free or cheap government internet.
How to Qualify
A household is eligible if one member of the household, including children, meets one or more of the following criteria:
- Qualifies for the Lifeline program;
- Receives benefits under the free and reduced-price school lunch program or breakfast program, or did so in the 2019-2020 school year;
- Received a Federal Pell Grant during the current award year;
- Experienced a substantial loss of income since February 29, 2020 and the household had a total income in 2020 below $99,000 for single filers and $198,000 for joint filers; or
- Meets income or other eligibility criteria for a participating provider’s existing low-income or COVID-19 program.
As you can see, there are many possible ways to qualify. If your household already qualifies for the Lifeline program, then you are now qualified for the EBB as well.
Additionally, children and young people can provide qualification for a household via participation in any breakfast or lunch programs at school. Any college students who qualify for the Pell Grant are also qualified for EBB.
If you’re not currently receiving Lifeline benefits, you may qualify based on your income or if you are participating in one of the following government benefit programs:
- Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)
- Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
- Federal Public Housing Assistance (FPHA)/Section 8
- Veterans Pension and Survivors Benefit
- Unemployment or Furlough
What Does the Benefit Look Like?
We’ve reviewed many of the ways you can qualify for the EBB program and its mission. But what would this actual benefit look like from month to month?
Most qualified applicants will be able to get free or greatly reduced broadband service from participating providers. Some providers may also offer free or low-cost devices such as tablets as part of the program.
How You Will Receive Benefits
This information is still developing, but it appears that applicants will need to complete an online application with a designated provider and submit some documentation to verify the economic status of the household to obtain EBB benefits.
Qualified providers should then be able to apply EBB benefits directly to approved customer accounts, greatly reducing or even removing monthly internet billing for the customer.
Therefore, it will be important to know which providers will participate in the program and apply correctly. Unfortunately, you can’t assume that the EBB will be available with your current provider if you have one or that you will be automatically enrolled.
When Can I Start?
So far, most of the information we have shared is the “good news” when it comes to the Emergency Broadband Benefit. But as you might expect, there is a bit of “bad news” to go along with it.
In this case, the bad news is that the program doesn’t have a definitive start date yet. While it was approved in December of 2020, the FCC confirmed that it might take several months to enact the program fully.
What are you supposed to do in the meantime? We’d recommend using this time to verify that you qualify for the program and assemble any paperwork you might need to prove your current financial status.
If you have never applied for Lifeline and think you may qualify, now is a great time to start that process. If you qualify for Lifeline, you will qualify for EBB benefits. Many Lifeline providers will offer EBB seamlessly to their existing customers, so it’s a great time to get started.
How Long Will This Last?
We don’t yet know exactly when the EBB will start. We also don’t know when it will end.
The FCC’s current plan is to pay out benefits to all qualified applicants until the $3.2 billion allotted for this program has been exhausted.
However, the plan could come to an end earlier if the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services officially declares an end to the public health emergency caused by COVID-19. If that should happen, the EBB program will only last six months after the declaration.
No one knows or can predict how long it will take for either situation to come to pass. Either way, providers must give customers ample notification as well as the opportunity to convert to a different plan before any change to the benefit occurs. Your emergency broadband benefit will not disappear overnight.
Staying Up to Date
One thing that should be very clear about the Emergency Broadband Benefit is that we don’t yet have all the answers, but it’s a good time to get your documentation in order.
We recommend that you stay up to date with this program. Our own website will provide additional information to you as it becomes available.
In addition to our site, you can find invaluable information about the EBB through the USAC website. There, you can learn more about eligibility, view important webinars, and even sign up to receive future updates about the EBB.
While there may be some paperwork involved, the EBB can make a major difference when it comes to keeping you connected to the internet.
Free or Cheap Government Internet: What’s Next?
What is the EBB program? Now you have the answer and know how this can help you access free or cheap government internet.
But the benefits don’t have to stop here. To further reduce your bills, it’s important to see if you qualify for the Lifeline program. This automatically qualifies you for the EBB and can help provide additional financial relief.