Several of the country’s largest telecommunication companies have agreed to help offer high-speed internet to millions of low-income customers.
As The Wall Street Journal reported Monday (May 9), President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, members of Congress, and telecom executives were due to announce the program, which offers a $30-a-month internet access subsidy to low-income households.
The report noted that the program had faced a roadblock early on: the people who could benefit from it were tough to reach because they weren’t online.
According to the Biden administration, the telecoms in question, which cover more than 80% of the U.S., had agreed to either boost their speeds or cut prices. The companies include AT&T, Comcast, and Verizon’s Fios service, along with Cox Communications, Charter Communications and Frontier Communications, plus some regional providers.
The Journal reported that the plan is one component of a $65 billion program to improve the country’s broadband network through the $1 trillion infrastructure law passed by Congress last year. Most of the broadband funds will go to states and territories for fiber-optic-cable projects, although the law also allows $14 billion in subsidies, known as the Affordable Connectivity Program, to reduce internet costs and offer improved access to broadband.
This aid is offered to homes with incomes that are 200% or less than federal poverty guidelines, or for households that qualify for assistance programs like Medicaid, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or a Federal Pell Grant.
As PYMNTS reported last year, America has been suffering from a deep digital divide, even before the pandemic moved everyone to their devices. Data from Microsoft found that as many as 162 million Americans weren’t accessing the internet at broadband speeds, and the Federal Communications Commission has said about 21 million Americans lack broadband access, chiefly in rural locations.
The Census Bureau has pointed out the role income plays in accessing the internet: the higher your county’s income, the higher your rate of internet subscription.
The Bureau estimated that as late as 2018, a little more than three-quarters of households had a broadband subscription in counties with median household incomes of around $50,000. In counties with median incomes below $50,000, the bureau said, the average rate of subscription dropped to roughly 65%. Parts of the country deemed “completely” rural had broadband subscriptions at a rate below 62%.