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Front Page Talking Points


Needy families await action on bill to restore federal internet service rebates


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We may take home internet and wi-fi for granted, but the cost can strain some families and individuals. Until this month, low-income households qualified for $30 monthly federal aid (or $75 for Native American households on tribal land) that paid all or most of their online access fees. That support under the $14-billion Affordable Connectivity Program began at the start of 2022 to help low-income people get online health support and participate in remote learning during the pandemic. More than 23 million households enrolled. Nearly half the subscribers are military families.

New enrollments paused in February and funding ended April 30, though recipients get partial rebates in May before those end in June. Students, parents, veterans, retirees, tribal members and others who were helped await a decision by Congress on whether to pass a $7-billion extension. House Speaker Mike Johnson declined to say whether he backs additional support. The Republican Study Committee, which has about 180 conservative House members, says it "stands against corporate welfare and government handouts that disincentivize prosperity."

The White House last month urged senators and representatives to pass the extension bill, which has sponsors from both major political parties. "It is an American issue, and it is a nonpartisan issue," said Jon Donenberg, deputy director of the White House’s National Economic Council. "Affordable and reliable high-speed internet is essential to life in the 21st century, which is why the Affordable Connectivity Program was created." In the meantime, former participants' home internet bills rise. In a Federal Communications Commission survey last December, 77% of the 5,317 respondents said losing the monthly rebate would make them change their internet provider or drop service. Many said they would "take money from other bills" or "cut other basic expenses" like food or gas if their monthly internet bill were $30 higher.

Recipients included families with children on free or reduced lunch programs, Pell grant recipients and people who lost jobs or saw their income fall. Each household also got a one-time discount of up to $100 for a laptop, tablet or desktop computer. The Federal Communications Commission's chairwoman, Jessica Rosenworcel, calls the program "the most consequential broadband affordability effort in our history." Studies show the program has led to increased employment and higher wages, according to the Brookings Institution, a Washington research center. Internet fee rebates also cut healthcare costs by replacing some in-person emergency room visits with telehealth consultations.

Beneficiary says: "It's been the difference between choosing whether to eat or whether to pay for the internet, which has things like virtual appointments with my psychiatrist. It basically helps me to keep from having to choose what bills I'm going to pay." -- Kenneth Sigler of Hernando, Miss.

White House says: "Affordable, reliable, high-speed internet is essential for Americans to participate in school, do their jobs, access health care and stay connected to loved ones." – Stephen Benjamin, senior presidential adviser

Federal official says: "We have come too far to allow this successful effort to promote internet access for all to end." -- Jessica Rosenworcel, Federal Communications Commission chair

Front Page Talking Points is written by Alan Stamm for, Copyright 2024

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