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Program offers help to pay for broadband

Low-income households in Hawaii could receive up to $75 a month to help pay for internet service as part of a new federal program.

The Emergency Broadband Benefit Program is administered by the Federal Communications Commission and allows certain households that qualify for various assistance programs to receive up to $50 a month to pay for broadband service from specific providers. Qualifying lessees on Hawaiian Home Lands can receive up to $75 a month.

Beneficiaries also can get a one-time discount of up to $100 to purchase a laptop, desktop or tablet computer.

“The one thing this pandemic has demonstrated is how important broadband and online access to a wide variety of services is,” said Gov. David Ige on Wednesday. “But for many families, they are … struggling to pay the bills and the cost of internet services.”

Households that qualify for the program include those with a member who receives assistance through Medicaid or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or participates in free or reduced school meal programs, or qualified for unemployment or Pandemic Unemployment Assistance in the past year, has received a Federal Pell Grant, or is eligible for a participating broadband provider’s existing low-income or pandemic-assistance program.

Burt Lum, broadband strategy officer for the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism, said the program is administered with $3.2 billion in federal funds that will be accessed by beneficiaries in all states. Because of this, he urged eligible households to apply early when the program opens May 12 because funding will be limited.

Lum said he estimates about 200,000 households in the state could be eligible for the program, which could draw about $40 million in aid through the program. Because the program will be administered nationwide, Lum said the full funding is expected to be used up in about 4-6 months.

However, Lum said federal programs and legislation are being developed that might extend the program further after the initial $3.2 billion is expended.

Applicants can choose to apply for the program directly through their internet provider, Lum said, and participating providers will conduct outreach to assist with the program.

Participating providers in Hawaii include the American Broadband and Telecommunications Company, AT&T, Charter Spectrum, Cricket Wireless, Hawaii Dialogix Telecom, Hawaiian Telcom, Selectel Wireless, T-Mobile and Verizon.

Beginning on May 12, households can apply online for the program at GetEmergencyBroadband.org or call 833-511-0311 for a mail-in application, to be sent with proof of eligibility.

Email Michael Brestovansky at mbrestovansky@hawaiitribune-herald.com.
Source: Hawaii Tribune Herald

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