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AFFORDABLE CONNECTIVITY | $30 A MONTH BENEFIT

Governor urges 1.6 million residents to apply for broadband assistance

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Gov. Tony Evers is urging Wisconsin residents who can’t afford internet service to sign up for new federal subsidies.

Administered by the Federal Communications Commission, the Affordable Connectivity Program provides discounts of up to $30 a month for eligible households and up to $75 a month for homes on tribal lands.

Established this year with $14.2 billion from the federal infrastructure act, the affordable connectivity program replaced a previous program known as the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program, cutting the benefit from $50 but expanding eligibility.

Some households can also receive up to $100 toward the purchase of a computer.

Only about 20% of the estimated 650,000 eligible households — representing nearly 1.6 million people — were enrolled in the broadband benefit program, according to research by the website broadbandnow.com. There are nearly 47,000 Milwaukee County households enrolled and about 8,500 in Dane County, according to the program administrator.

Evers said Wisconsin residents should not have to choose between essential needs and internet access, which has become increasingly important since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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“We know that the digital divide in our state is holding our communities back, as high-speed internet is no longer a luxury but a necessity to learn, work, and access critical resources in our state and country today,” Evers said in a statement.

According to a 2021 report from the Federal Communications Commission, roughly 394,900 people in Wisconsin lack access to quality broadband service, though a private study estimated the actual number could be higher than 600,000.

That has long been a problem in rural Wisconsin, especially remote areas where there aren’t enough customers to justify the high cost of running wires, but a recent UW-Extension study found internet access is also a problem in cities where many can’t afford it.

To qualify for the affordable connectivity program, households must have income less than twice the federal poverty guidelines — about $46,000 a year for a family of three — or receive certain types of government assistance such as Medicaid, SSI or school lunch subsidies. Current recipients of federal Pell Grants are also eligible.

Participating broadband providers — including AT&T, CenturyLink, Comcast, and TDS — receive money directly from the program and apply the discount to customer bills.

Those enrolled in the previous program will continue to receive benefits through February but may need to re-enroll after March 1.

Eligible households can enroll by visiting acpbenefit.org or by contacting participating broadband providers. Customers who need additional assistance can call the FCC’s information line at 877-384-2575.

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