The FCC just approved a $50 a month subsidy for low-income households to get high-speed internet, plus a $100 discount on a computer. Here’s who’s eligible.

Adjusting computer volume
A woman enjoying music while working in the office.

  • The FCC has approved a $3.2 billion federal initiative to give people better internet.
  • Eligible households can get broadband subsidies of up to $50 a month.
  • Households that receive a Federal Pell Grant or get free school lunches are among those eligible.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

A $3.2 billion federal initiative to subsidize high-speed internet for low-income households during the pandemic has just been approved, and applications could open within two months.

The program will offer eligible households discounts of up to $50 a month for broadband service, and up to $75 a month if the household is on Tribal lands, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) said.

The program will also provide a one-time discount of up to $100 on a computer or tablet for eligible households.

The program is the biggest one yet to help households nationwide afford broadband service, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) said Thursday, after it voted unanimously to formally adopt the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program.

Jessica Rosenworcel, the FCC’s acting chairwoman, said she expects the program to be open to eligible households within 60 days.

To be eligible, at least one member of the household must meet one of the following criteria:

  • Qualify for the FCC’s Lifeline program, including those that are on Medicaid or accept SNAP benefits.
  • Receive benefits under the free and reduced-price school lunch or breakfast program.
  • Have lost jobs and seen their income reduced in the last year.
  • Have received a Federal Pell Grant.
  • Meet the eligibility criteria for a participating broadband providers’ existing low-income or COVID-19 program.

The initiative forms part of the $7 billion in aid Congress approved in December to help lower-income Americans get internet access.

“It will help those sitting in cars in parking lots just to catch a Wi-Fi signal to go online for work,” Rosenworcel said. “It will help those lingering outside the library with a laptop just to get a wireless signal for remote learning. It will help those who worry about choosing between paying a broadband bill and paying rent or buying groceries.”

During the pandemic, many jobs, schools, and healthcare services have moved online – widening the digital divide. This is especially problematic in rural areas, which are more likely to both have limited broadband access and be located further from amenities.

The pandemic has led to what’s been dubbed the “homework gap,” where students without reliable home internet have struggled to keep up with remote learning.

An FCC member since 2012, Rosenworcel has pushed for the commission to use its authority and resources to expand internet access. She was appointed the commission’s acting chairwoman in January. 

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California’s net-neutrality rules clear major hurdle as Biden’s DOJ abandons its efforts to block them

GettyImages 974049450 An internet speed test website is seen on a mobile device in this photo illustration on June 11, 2018 in Warsaw, Poland. With the American Federal Communications Commission having repealed law's that protect consumers from companies themselves determining internet speeds, the so called net neutrality rules fears arise that the internet will more and more resembel cable TV where a handful of big companies dominate broadcasting. (Photo by Jaap Arriens/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
  • The DOJ dropped its legal challenge to California’s net-neutrality rules on Monday.
  • California lawmakers passed the rules in 2018 after Trump’s FCC overturned Obama-era rules.
  • This is a reversal from the Trump administration’s fight against popular net-neutrality policies.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

The Department of Justice has dropped its legal challenge to California’s net-neutrality rules, the agency said in a court filing on Monday.

The move clears a major hurdle that had prevented the state’s rules from going into effect, and represents a significant departure from the Trump administration’s approach to internet policy.

After the Trump-led Federal Communications Commission voted in 2017 to repeal widely popular Obama-era net-neutrality protections at the federal level, California lawmakers passed a law the following year that aimed to restore some of those protections within its own borders.

But the Trump administration challenged California’s rules, as did internet providers including AT&T, Verizon, Comcast, and Charter Communications (their legal challenge is pending, and a hearing is scheduled for February 23).

Read more: Everything you need to know about California’s tough net neutrality bill

The Biden administration’s decision to abandon the fight against net neutrality, which comes on the heels of President Joe Biden’s nomination of acting FCC chair Jessica Rosenworcel, signals it may take a tougher approach to companies that provide Americans with internet access.

“I am pleased that the Department of Justice has withdrawn this lawsuit,” Rosenworcel said in a press release.

“When the FCC, over my objection, rolled back its net-neutrality policies, states like California sought to fill the void with their own laws. By taking this step, Washington is listening to the American people, who overwhelmingly support an open internet, and is charting a course to once again make net neutrality the law of the land,” she said.

Public opinion polls have consistently shown that the overwhelming majority of Americans – including both Republicans and Democrats – support net neutrality, a policy that prevents internet providers like AT&T and Comcast from “throttling” customers’ internet speeds or forcing certain websites to pay more for “fast lanes.”

In addition to fighting net neutrality, the Trump administration mostly deregulated the industry. Under former FCC chair Ajit Pai’s leadership, the agency faced criticism for being overly friendly toward the companies under its purview, doing little to improve Americans’ internet speeds or ability to access the internet in the first place.

Despite industry arguments that deregulation promotes innovation and cost savings that benefit consumers, the US recently fell out of the top 10 countries for internet speeds globally, according to a report from DecisionData.org, and Americans still pay far more for that service.

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Biden appoints FTC and FCC acting directors in move that signals a more aggressive approach to regulating big tech

slaugher ftc rosenworcel fcc
FTC acting director Rebecca Kelly Slaughter and FCC acting director Jessica Rosenworcel.

  • Biden picked Rebecca Kelly Slaughter and Jessica Rosenworcel as acting FTC and FCC directors.
  • The two Democrats have been more aggressive regulating big tech in the past than Trump’s appointees.
  • They also favor many of Biden’s stances on issues like internet access, net neutrality, and privacy.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

President Joe Biden made two key agency appointments on Thursday that offer an early window into how his administration could approach regulating the tech and telecom industries.

Biden selected Democrat Rebecca Kelly Slaughter as acting director of the Federal Trade Commission and Democrat Jessica Rosenworcel as acting director of the Federal Communications Commission.

Slaughter began her term at the FTC in May 2018, after being nominated by President Donald Trump. Rosenworcel was first nominated to serve on the FCC by President Barack Obama in 2012, and is the longest-serving Democratic commissioner at the agency.

The appointments signal that Biden’s administration will likely continue to get tougher on regulating tech and telecom companies, building on the Trump administration’s mix of increasing antitrust enforcement, attempts to roll back Section 230’s legal protections for internet companies, and laissez-faire approach to telecom regulations.

The outgoing FTC Chairman Joe Simons, a Trump appointee, had begun to ramp up the agency’s antitrust and consumer privacy work, opening several landmark investigations into Facebook, Amazon, Google, and even started looking at past mergers and acquisitions by big tech.

Slaughter has supported the FTC’s increasingly hard line on antitrust issues as well as privacy, but she has also argued the agency should have taken action earlier and issued harsher penalties more likely to deter companies from future law-breaking, including holding executives personally liable for their companies’ privacy violations.

Slaugher has also said that the FTC’s enforcement efforts should be “anti-racist” through ensuring markets aren’t racially discriminatory and protecting consumers from algorithmic bias.

Rosenworcel’s appointment to the FCC, however, marks an even greater departure from her predecessor, the outgoing Chairman Ajit Pai.

A former Verizon lawyer, Pai drew criticism for being overly friendly toward the companies under his agency’s purview, opposing overwhelmingly popular net neutrality rules, and doing little to improve Americans’ internet speeds or ability to access the internet in the first place.

Rosenworcel has pushed for the FCC to use its authority and resources to expand internet access, particularly to students whose lack of home internet has prevented them from keeping up in school while participating in remote learning during the pandemic – the so-called “homework gap.” She has also voiced support for net neutrality in the past, and will likely face pressure to reinstate the policy.

Slaughter and Rosenworcel will likely play a key role in any efforts to modify Section 230, which some Democrats say lets tech companies off the hook for not doing enough to disincentivize hate speech, harassment, and violence on their platforms.

The appointments aren’t final, as Biden will still need to decide whether to nominate Slaughter and Rosenworcel as permanent chairs. They will also likely face delays implementing their more ambitious plans until Biden nominates additional commissioners to break the current 2-2 split between Democrats and Republicans at both agencies.

Both the FTC and FCC are led by as many as five commissioners, appointed by the president, and neither is allowed to have more than three members of one party. Biden’s appointments will need to be confirmed by the Senate, a likely prospect as Vice President Kamala Harris could break any tie between the evenly divided upper chamber.

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