Daily Local News (West Chester, PA)

Biden announces program offering discounted internet

- By Aamer Madhani and Will Weissert

President Joe Biden announced Monday that 20 internet companies have agreed to provide discounted service to people with low incomes, a program that could effectivel­y make tens of millions of households eligible for free service through an already existing federal subsidy.

“High-speed internet is not a luxury any longer. It’s a necessity,” Biden said at a rose garden event with representa­tives from participat­ing companies, as well as members of Congress.

The $1 trillion infrastruc­ture package passed by Congress last year included $14.2 billion funding for the Affordable Connectivi­ty Program, which provides $30 monthly subsidies ($75 in tribal areas) on internet service for millions of lower-income households.

With the new commitment from the internet providers, some 48 million households will be eligible for $30 monthly plans for 100 megabits per second, or higher speed, service — making internet service fully paid for with government assistance if they sign up with one of the providers participat­ing in the program.

Biden noted that families of four earning about $55,000 annually — or those including someone eligible for Medicaid — will get a $30 monthly credit, meaning about 40% of Americans will qualify.

“This is a case where big business stepped up. We’re trying to get others to do the same thing,” Biden told the crowd to sustained applause. “It’s going to change peoples’ lives.”

Advocates were cautiously optimistic.

“It might be a gamechange­r,” said Marty Newell, coordinato­r for Rural Broadband Policy at the Center for Rural Strategies in Whitesburg, Kentucky, where he said slow internet has plagued residents and businesses alike.

Newell said he wanted to see more about what the program will mean going forward but that his main question is — given that increased broadband access has generally been a bipartisan issue in Congress — “What took them so long?”

Biden, during his White House run and the push for the infrastruc­ture bill, made expanding highspeed internet access in rural and low-income areas a priority. He has repeatedly spoken out about low-income families that struggled finding reliable WiFi, so their children could take part in remote schooling and complete homework assignment­s early in the coronaviru­s pandemic, including, he said Monday, families driving to McDonald’s parking lots to access wireless internet inside the restaurant.

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