The federal program funds a $30 monthly internet service rebate for eligible households.
Households with incomes up to 200% of federal poverty guidelines are eligible for the Affordable Connection Program, which subsidizes high-speed Internet, known as broadband.
In Maine and most states, qualifying incomes are $27,180 a year for a single-person household; $36,620 for two people; $46,060 for three people; and $55,500 for a family of four. Only one discount is allowed per household. People can also get discounts on devices like new laptops.
Those who already have a broadband provider can simply call and ask for a discount. Callers may be asked for proof of income. People who can’t afford Internet service but want to sign up, sign up, or meet an eligible senior relative can also call and ask.
To apply, visit www.affordableconnectivity.gov and see the eligibility rules for households of up to eight people.
“It’s something we’re very excited to see,” said Myles Smith, executive director of the Maine Broadband Coalition. “Almost every Maine ISP participates, but each one does it differently.”
Some companies offer service for as little as $30 a month, meaning eligible households pay nothing.
The Maine Broadband Coalition is a “big tent” organization made up mostly of nonprofits and small businesses, he said.
The group has been formally working since 2018 to expand broadband — mostly to rural areas and seniors — and advocate for better Internet service in Maine.
The goals are “higher quality internet and improved digital equity,” Smith said.
This means expanding and improving internet service for the elderly.
“It’s absolutely, absolutely essential,” Smith said. “That’s one of the things the (Maine Broadband Coalition) has been pushing. We know it’s very important to people in many ways.”
For example, it is increasingly difficult for an elderly villager to turn to a specialist in his field.
“If you have a great internet connection,” he said, “you don’t have to drive two hours to see a specialist.”
Instead, patients can see doctors online from home.
Another benefit is allowing elders to age in place without feeling isolated. If they have good internet connections, their children and grandchildren can spend more time with them. They can stay connected and work remotely while visiting and helping care for their aging parents and grandparents, Smith said.
The Machias-based National Center for Digital Efficacy offers online courses to teach Mainers how to take advantage, including the Affordable Connections Program, he said.
“If the senior has never had access to the Internet before, they’re taught to do things like video call with their grandkids,” Smith said, adding that everything is free and the center works with libraries where people can get local help.
A $14.2 billion Federal Communications Commission program launched late last year replaces the pandemic-inspired Emergency Broadband Assistance Program in 2021 as of Dec. 19, according to an AARP newsletter.
Under that program, the percentage of Internet subscribers 50 or older has increased as a share of participants, as of Nov. 1, the most recent data available.
Last year, when the old program had 7.1 million subscribers, nearly two in five were 50 or older, according to AARP.
According to the agency, the proportion of elderly subscribers increased by more than 43%, including more than 2.4 million 65-84 year olds and more than 190,000 85 and older subscribers.
According to the newsletter, President Joe Biden compared the need for high-speed Internet to his grandfather’s need for a telephone.
“It’s pretty consequential,” Biden said. “High-speed Internet is no longer a luxury. This is a necessity.”
“It’s as important as roads, water and sanitation,” he said. “This is the infrastructure of the future.”
A Bradford man’s body has been recovered from Lake Seboeis after his snowmobile broke through the ice