WASHINGTON (AP) – President Joe Biden announced Monday that 20 Internet companies have agreed to provide discounted service to low-income people, a program that could provide tens of millions of families with free service through an existing federal subsidy.
“High-speed Internet is no longer a luxury. It’s a necessity,” Biden said at a sunny Rose Garden event with representatives from participating companies and members of Congress.
A $1 trillion infrastructure package Last year, Congress passed $14.2 billion in funding for the Affordable Connectivity Program, which provides a $30 monthly subsidy ($75 in tribal areas) for internet service to millions of low-income households.
Under the new commitment from ISPs, about 48 million households will be eligible for $30-a-month plans for 100 megabits per second or higher speed service — if they sign up with one of the providers, they’ll have their Internet service fully paid for with government assistance. participates in the program.
Biden noted that families of four making about $55,000 a year, or including those eligible for Medicaid, would receive a $30 monthly credit, meaning about 40 percent of Americans would qualify.
“This is an event in which big business is empowered. We’re trying to get others to do the same,” Biden told the crowd to sustained applause. “This is going to change people’s lives.”
Advocates were cautiously optimistic.
“It could be a game changer,” said Marty Newell, Rural Broadband Policy Coordinator for the Center for Rural Strategies in Whitesburg, Kentucky, who said slow Internet is a concern for residents and businesses alike.
Newell said he wants to see more of what the program means going forward, but his main question — given that increasing broadband access is generally a bipartisan issue in Congress — is “What’s taking them so long?”
Biden has made expanding high-speed Internet access in rural and low-income areas a priority during his time leading the White House and pushing the infrastructure bill. He repeatedly spoke of low-income families struggling to find reliable Wi-Fi so their children could participate in distance learning and do homework at the start of the coronavirus pandemic. including, he said Monday, as families go to McDonald’s parking lots to access wireless Internet inside the restaurant.
The president said the 20 internet companies that have agreed to lower their rates for eligible consumers serve areas where 80% of the US population lives, including 50% of the rural population. Participating companies that offer service on tribal lands offer rates of $75, the equivalent of a federal government subsidy in those areas.
Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris also met with telecommunications executives, members of Congress and others on Monday to highlight efforts to improve access to high-speed Internet for low-income families. The president said a top priority ahead will be increasing competition among Internet providers in many parts of the country, noting that millions of Americans live in areas with only one provider and are currently paying higher prices because of it.
Participating providers are Allo Communications, AltaFiber (and Hawaiian Telcom), Altice USA (Optimum and Suddenlink), Astound, AT&T, Breezeline, Comcast, Comporium, Frontier, IdeaTek, Cox Communications, Jackson Energy Authority, MediaCom, MLGC Spectrum (MLGC) . Communications), Starry, Verizon (Fios only), Vermont Telephone Co., Vexus Fiber, and Wow! Internet, cable and TV.
American households are eligible for subsidies through the Affordable Connections Program if their income is at or below 200% of the federal poverty level, or if their family member participates in one of several programs, including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Federal Public Housing Assistance (FPHA) and Veterans Retirement and Survivors Benefits.
An earlier version of this story mistakenly cited Hawaiian Telecom. The correct name is Hawaiian Telcom.