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Free internet from the government: How to see if you qualify under Biden’s new plan

The Biden administration announced Monday that 20 internet providers have agreed to participate in the Affordable Connectivity Program.

Free internet from the government: How to see if you qualify under Biden’s new plan
[Source Images: Andriy Onufriyenko/Getty]

Twenty of America’s largest broadband providers, including AT&T, Verizon, and Comcast, have agreed to offer high-speed internet to millions of Americans essentially for free.

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The Biden administration announced Monday that these providers—whose combined coverage reaches 80% of the U.S. population—have agreed to participate in the Affordable Connectivity Program, an initiative squeezed into the new bipartisan infrastructure law. On their end, they’ve committed to offering high-speed internet of at least 100 Mbps and capping the price at $30 per month. The government will then provide eligible Americans with a $30-a-month subsidy, offsetting the price entirely.

The effort is part of a federal subsidy program that’s seen previous iterations going back to late 2020, when it was known as the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program. But the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which oversees it, says attempts to enroll Americans haven’t gone gangbusters, owing partly to the logistics challenge of reaching households that don’t already have high-speed internet. The FCC says about 11.5 million homes are currently signed up nationwide, but it believes that 48 million households, or nearly 40% of U.S. households, are eligible.

To expand access, the government has unveiled a brand new website, GetInternet.gov, where people can check their eligibility and find a list of service providers in their area that are participating. Eligibility is income-based, and the White House lays out two ways to qualify: Belong to a household whose income is no more than double the federal poverty level; that means a cap of $27,180 for one person, $36,620 for two, $46,060 for three, and $55,500 for four. Or Americans qualify if they’re eligible for one of the following government assistance programs:

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  • Medicaid
  • SNAP
  • WIC
  • Supplemental Security Income
  • Federal Public Housing Assistance
  • Veterans Pension and Survivors Benefit
  • National School Lunch Program
  • Federal Pell Grants
  • Lifeline
  • Certain Tribal assistance programs—among them Bureau of Indian Affairs general assistance, Head Start, Tribal TANF, and the Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations

There’s also a third way to qualify, which is by meeting the specific criteria for an internet provider’s own low-income internet program.

The Biden administration says today’s announcement is part of a larger plan to reduce high-speed internet costs for all Americans. The law also includes tens of billions of dollars to expand broadband infrastructure, a ban on sweetheart deals that restrict internet access in apartment buildings to a single provider, and a new rule requiring internet providers to create a “Broadband Nutrition Label” for their internet packages, to make it easier to compare them the same way grocery shoppers might flip over frozen pizza boxes to see which is healthier.

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