EBB provides assistance to low income households, awareness challenges still exist – MeriTalk

When the pandemic struck, an affordable and reliable internet became vital to keeping the United States running. This sudden change has highlighted the glaring disparity in Internet connectivity for underserved communities. Congress attempted to remedy this problem with the Emergency Broadband Benefit (EBB), which offers low-income consumers a rebate of $ 50 on their Internet bills.

However, panelists at a virtual event co-hosted by the National Academy of Public Administration and the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee on December 15 believe some challenges remain with the program that need to be addressed to connect more people.

Dr Dominique Harrison, director of technology policy at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, stressed that the EBB program was working. According to Harrison, at the end of June 2021, 3.1 million homes were enrolled in the program, and by the beginning of November, 7.4 million homes were connected.

“The data also showed that low-income households in areas with limited broadband access were enrolling in the program; I think it’s proof that the program is reaching those who need it, ”said Harrison.

But the biggest problem remains, awareness. According to Harrison, there is a big problem “where people don’t know about these Internet subsidy programs, and many of them are low-income households who need these kinds of services for everyday life.”

The other panelist agreed with Harrison’s assessment of this advocacy challenge. Angela Siefer, executive director of the National Digital Inclusion Alliance, said state and local entities need a more focused effort to raise awareness of these programs that can help their constituents get the services they need affordably. .

“Above all, there is an opportunity for the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to invest in local awareness, whether by working with state and local organizations to raise awareness or directly interact with citizens in these areas,” Siefer said. .

“The FCC has the ability to empower not only nonprofits, but also state and local governments and community organizations, not only to help people learn about EBB, but to guide them through everything. through the process and help them sign up, whether in person or over the phone, ”said Evan Feinman, chief broadband advisor for Gov. Ralph Northam’s office in Virginia.

Feinman explained that getting people the help they needed to enroll in this program was becoming more of a problem.

“We’re talking about getting people to sign up for high speed internet through the internet, and these are the people who don’t have that access, so how do we get them the help they need to sign up,” he said. said Feinman.

The FCC allows people to enroll in the program through paper applications or a manual review. However, a recent report from Government Accountability Office found that over two-thirds of the candidates who took the manual exam never completed it. This, according to Feinman, is where state and local governments and community organizations are needed; to help people looking for this service.

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