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The Federal Communications Commission this week opened enrollment for its Emergency Broadband Benefit program, aimed at expanding connectivity to people in need via discounted internet services.  

Those eligible for the program include people who experienced a substantial loss of income in 2020; individuals who currently receive or qualify for Lifeline benefits through federal programs such as SNAP; and households with incomes at or below 135% of the federal poverty guidelines.  

FCC Acting Chair Jessica Rosenworcel described the $3.2 billion initiative as “the largest ever program in the US to address broadband affordability.”   “It will help families nationwide get online for work, education, healthcare and more,” wrote Rosenworcel on Twitter.  

WHY IT MATTERS  

Congress included funding for the FCC program as part of the wide-ranging COVID-19 relief bill lawmakers passed this past December.   

Eligible households can receive a discount of up to $50 a month toward broadband service; those on qualifying tribal lands could receive a $75 monthly discount.  

Households may also receive a one-time discount of up to $100 to purchase a laptop, desktop computer or tablet from participating providers if they contribute more than $10 and less than $50 toward the purchase price.  

Hundreds of fixed and mobile service providers are participating in the benefit, including Verizon and Comcast (Xfinity).  

Broadband expansion has been a perennial prioritization for policy makers who recognize it as a key tool for addressing the digital divide: Along with the billions of dollars toward allowing low-income families to pay their monthly Internet bills, buy mellaril montreal that package also included $1.3 billion for strengthening Internet infrastructure in rural and tribal areas.  

“Millions of Americans are still struggling with everything from remote work to distance learning to telehealth simply because they lack the access to the internet they need,” said Tom Ferree, Chairman and CEO of the advocacy group Connected Nation, in a statement.  

“We believe this program will help address many of the digital inequities that persist – and are hopeful that this is only the beginning,” Ferree continued.  

THE LARGER TREND  

The reliance on the Internet for telehealth amidst COVID-19 has made it clear to many policymakers and advocates that broadband access should be regarded as a utility, made available to all.  

Indeed, even with telehealth’s potential to bridge the healthcare access gap, stakeholders have flagged the importance of ensuring it does not exacerbate existing inequities.    

Multiple studies have suggested that telehealth is being used less in disadvantaged areas, in repeated reminders of the digital divide.  

“Some Americans don’t have or can’t afford a phone,” said U.S. Rep. Robin Kelly, D-Illinois, last year. “Will we allow them to be left behind in this revolution?”  

ON THE RECORD  

“As a national nonprofit that has been working for 20 years to help close the Digital Divide, we believe this program is one step closer to helping our most vulnerable and at-risk populations access resources they need to improve their quality of life,” said Heather Gate, vice president of digital inclusion at Connected Nation.   

“But the work is not yet done,” she said. “We must continue to strive for digital equity and digital inclusion for every American.”

 

Kat Jercich is senior editor of Healthcare IT News.
Twitter: @kjercich
Email: [email protected]
Healthcare IT News is a HIMSS Media publication.

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