Last week marked the beginning of enrollment for the Federal Communications Commission’s (“FCC”) Emergency Broadband Benefit. The program offers a monthly discount to offset the cost of broadband Internet subscriptions, helping those who are struggling with connectivity with pathways to stay connected. It provides a one-time discount on a laptop, desktop, or tablet computer. Enrollment started on May 12th and will continue until funding is exhausted or six months after the Department of Health and Human Services declares an end to the pandemic.
Call to Action. Next Century Cities led a call to action for local and state officials to help to promote the program, which was a huge success. Motivated by a shared goal to ensure that every low-income household in their communities finds out about the Emergency Broadband Benefit program and how to enroll, local and state officials, nonprofits, social service entities, and broadband providers worked to educate the public in various ways.
Since enrollment for the program opened, local and state governments have doubled down on their efforts to ensure that all residents who qualify learn about the program. Somerville, Massachusetts; Tucson, Arizona; Blue Earth County, Minnesota; and Fort Worth, Texas are only a handful of the many localities across the country which posted information on their websites. Community organizations like the Public Utility Law Project of New York and education post have also shared information about the program.
In Pennsylvania, the departments of Human Services, Labor & Industry, and Education partnered to promote the EBB. The Michigan Public Service Commission issued a press release promoting the EBB. Michigan Public Service Commissioner Tremaine Phillips said:
As the COVID-19 pandemic has made clear, having high-speed internet access at home isn’t a luxury, but a necessity so that people have access to critical services such as remote learning and telemedicine and maintain the ability to stay in contact with family and friends during a difficult and isolating time.
Webinar on Effective Outreach Strategies. Next Century Cities (NCC), New York State Library (NYSL), and the New York State Broadband (NYSB) Office co-hosted a webinar for local and state officials to share effective outreach and enrollment strategies. Over 120 community leaders joined NCC’s Lukas Pietrzak, NYSL’s Lauren Moore, and NYSB’s Scott Rasmussen. Throughout the conversation, panelists highlighted the success stories of municipalities across the country that are already activating resources and partnering with residents to increase enrollment rates of eligible households for the new program. Local officials and community leaders shared great resources in the chat.
Moore emphasized the critical role of libraries and schools in connecting vulnerable populations and providing important assistance on application, registration, and enrollment processes. Rasmussen painted a unified picture of efforts across New York state where Internet service providers, state agencies, and local organizations are building coalitions to support the Emergency Broadband Benefit. Following the presentations, panelists fielded dozens of questions from audience members surrounding the technical details of the program and priorities for advocates. View the webinar recording here. Participants shared a variety of EBB resources in the chat.
Government officials, nonprofits, and providers spread the word about the EBB program using the #EBBDayOfAction hashtag on social media platforms. Participants were able to share valuable resources designed to help qualified households partake in the program.
Reddit “Ask Me Anything” Session. Next Century Cities joined public interest allies in a Reddit Ask Me Anything (“AMA”) session led by Public Knowledge. An Ask Me Anything gives the users of Reddit, an online social media platform, the opportunity to ask any questions they choose on a given topic in a forum-style format.
Participants submitted questions related to the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program which ranged from specifics on eligibility requirements, how public interest organizations are working towards a more permanent broadband subsidy, how consumers can help family members apply, and how the Internet and device subsidies can be used. The AMA will remain active through June. Those interested can visit the page to see if potential questions have been answered or check Next Century Cities’ Emergency Broadband webpage for updates.
Contact Us. We know that local and state officials, in partnership with community leaders, are working to ensure that every eligible household finds out about the program. If there are ways that Next Century Cities can put a spotlight on those efforts, please contact Lukas Pietrzak at Lukas@nextcenturycities.org.