A government benefit helped Americans save on Internet costs last year – Unity Wireless

A government benefit helped Americans save on Internet costs last year. Here’s how the sequel works.

Zoom calls for work. Remote learning. Long stretches of mid-quarantine video streaming. Life in a pandemic forced millions of Americans to live more of their lives online, and last year’s Emergency Broadband Benefit (EBB) made paying for Internet service a little easier.

The program was enormously popular — more than 1 million people signed up in its first week, and high demand early on made it difficult to even check your eligibility. For many, though, those hiccups were worth it: In exchange, many saw discounts of up to $50 on their monthly Internet bills.

The catch? The EBB was always meant to be a temporary measure. Now, after a 60-day winding-down period, it is officially gone — though not exactly forgotten. Its goals live on in the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP), which continues to offer monthly discounts for people who qualify.

Make no mistake, though: the ACP is different from last year’s emergency benefit, so not everyone who signed up for a discount last year will still receive one. Here’s what you need to know about the ACP, who’s eligible for a price break, and how to sign up.

How much is the discount?

If you qualify for the program, expect to see your Internet bill decrease by $30 a month. (The money goes directly to your service provider, so you won’t need to do anything extra.) That’s $20 a month less than what the EBB offered to most people who applied, though in some cases it’s still enough to effectively zero out Internet bills.

The sole exception is if you currently live on qualifying tribal lands — if that’s the case, you get a discount of up to $75 a month, same as under the EBB.

Who qualifies for these discounts?

Lots of people, maybe even you. One of the most straightforward ways to check your eligibility is to think about your household income.

Let’s say you’re the sole earner of a family of four in Washington, D.C. — if you make $53,000 a year or less, you qualify for the program. Meanwhile, a person in the same position in Alaska or Hawaii would have to make less than $66,260 and $60,960, respectively, to qualify.

There are other ways to qualify, too. If someone in your household receives federal assistance such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, Medicaid or even Pell grants for college tuition, you can sign up for the ACP discount. Ditto if you already receive a “Lifeline” benefit for discounted phone service, or if you receive supplemental security income because you or one of your dependents has a disability or blindness.

The Universal Service Administrative Company, which runs the program, has a full eligibility breakdown available here.

But not everyone who qualified for the EBB will continue to get a discount under the ACP. Because the pandemic upended the economy and forced millions of Americans out of work, you could apply for the EBB last year if you experienced a “substantial loss of income due to job loss or furlough since February 29, 2020” and made less than $99,000 as an individual that same year. For families with two income earners, that cutoff was even higher, at $198,000.

Now that job numbers continue to rise, though, that handy little provision is gone. The result? People who have managed to bounce back from pandemic-era financial problems are back to paying full price for their bills.

Eligibility information for Affordable Connectivity program (Universal Service Administrative Company)

Can I sign up even if I didn’t receive the Emergency Broadband Benefit?

Assuming you meet the criteria outlined above, you sure can. The EBB was a predecessor to the ACP, not a prerequisite.

Is my Internet provider part of this program?

Probably. The program’s website lists more than a thousand different home and mobile Internet providers that are participating in the ACP, from massive nationwide telecom companies to regional providers. Thankfully, checking to see if your company offers access to this monthly discount is as simple as punching your Zip code into the USAC’s handy tool.

Some of these Internet providers also continue to offer discounted and even free hardware — think laptops or tablets — to help you get online. That said, claiming some of that free tech can get a little convoluted, and it requires you to work directly with your service provider.

The government has a program to cut your Internet bill. Verizon was using it to force you onto a new data plan.

How do I sign up for it?

Starting the process is pretty simple: Visit the ACP Benefit website, create an account and answer a few questions. You can also print out an application and mail it in if that’s more your speed, but applying online is much faster and in some cases offers near-instant acceptance.

We recommend having some documentation ready, just in case. If you qualify because of your income, rather than the fact you already receive other federal benefits, you may need to provide additional proof, like your tax returns or pay stubs.

Once you get the all-clear from the government, the next step is to talk to your Internet service provider. (You did check to see if it participates in the program, right?) You may be able to work through this process inside a store if your provider has those, or in one of those chat windows on the company’s website. Our recommendation? Just give your provider a call — the representative on the other end should know what’s going on, or at least transfer you to someone who does.

In theory, the ACP should help ease some people’s financial burdens, and ensure that families that rely on these connections don’t find themselves cut off. But if you have trouble claiming the benefit you’re owed, you can call the USAC’s help line at (877) 384-2575 — and don’t forget to let the Help Desk know about what you’ve been through.