Talking Tech: FCC’s $50 COVID broadband discount program up and running; students and seniors can benefit

Broadband connectivity has been a must-have during the coronavirus pandemic. Now, the Federal Communications Commission has a program to help you pay your monthly internet bill – at least for a few months.

The Emergency Broadband Benefit Program provides a discount of up to $50 a month toward broadband service for eligible households and up to $75 a month for households on qualifying tribal lands. And if you need a computer or tablet to connect to the internet, the program can give those eligible a one-time discount of up to $100 to buy one if they contribute more than $10 and less than $50 toward the purchase.

Students could definitely benefit from the Emergency Broadband Benefit (EBB) as there are up to an estimated 17 million who do not have the home internet connection needed to complete school assignments, says FCC Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel.

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“Even before this virus reached us where we live, we had millions of students who lacked the home broadband connection they need to complete online assignments from their teachers,” she said during an event kicking off the program. “They fall into the homework gap, which is what I have called the cruelest part of our nation’s digital divide.”

Another group who could benefit? Seniors, says Nancy LeaMond, executive vice president and chief advocacy and engagement officer for AARP. “The pandemic has shown that access to high-speed internet is not a luxury; it’s a necessity,” she said. “People without high-speed internet service are being left behind when it comes to health care, work, connecting with family and friends and education.”

A recent case in point: Signing up for COVID-19 vaccinations became a challenge for some without broadband, especially seniors. 

While the Pew Research Center finds that 93% of American adults use the internet, only about 75% of those aged 65 and older say they do. That compares with 99% of those aged 18-29, according to Pew; in comparison, 97% of the 30-49 age group are connected, as are 96% of the 50-64 age group.

These volunteers are scouring the internet to book vaccine appointments for people across the country.

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An estimated more than 22 million Americans 65 and older do not have broadband at home, found a recent Older Adults Technology Services report from AARP’s Aging Connected initiative, in partnership with the Humana Foundation.

AARP has online EBB resources to help those interested in signing up for the broadband benefit. And the FCC has EBB information on its website, too. 

You qualify if you already qualify for the Lifeline program, which helps low-income Americans purchase broadband access. You also qualify if you are on Medicaid or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP.

For more information about qualifications due to household income and lost income due to COVID-19, read USA TODAY’s previous story.

The EBB is part of the roughly $900 billion COVID-19 relief package passed by Congress in December 2020 and signed by President Donald Trump. It set aside $3.2 billion for the FCC to cover the program, which Federal Communications Commission to cover the program, which will end when the money runs out or six months after the Department of Health and Human Services declares an end to the COVID-19 health emergency, whichever comes first, the FCC says.

What else happened in tech?

Glitterbomb Youtube star.: We got to know former NASA engineer Mark Rober, who has made packages that explode with glitter and fart spray to thwart porch pirates.

Online cancer support. Free digital care planner Jasper has launched to the general public. The smart platform, available at hellojasper.com, help cancer patients and their caregivers keep track of their appointments, medicines, and other aspects of their treatment.

Gas pipeline cyberattack. The Colonial Pipeline, which delivers about 45% of the fuel for the East Coast, began operating again Thursday after being shut down by a cyberattack. That shutdown led to a run on gas stations, which left some low on fuel or totally out. And even led to the GasBuddy app, which directs users to lower-priced fuel options, to go offline temporarily.

President Joe Biden announced Colonial Pipeline reached full operational capacity a week after it was shutdown following a cyberattack.

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Game break

The legal showdown between Apple and “Fortnite” publisher Epic Games on Monday begins its third week in U.S. District Court in Oakland, California. So far, there has been much talk about what makes a game “a game,” writes Shannon Liao in The Washington Post . Also discussed: whether “Fortnite” unlockable character Peely, a banana, is inappropriate if shown without a peel.

This week in Talking Tech

On this week’s Talking Tech podcast, we discussed concerns about the planned Instagram for Kids, the new video game “Resident Evil Village” and upcoming game “Twelve Minutes,” with voice acting from Daisy Ridley, Willem Dafoe and James McAvoy.

Contributing: Elizabeth Weise, Terry Collins, Nathan Bomey, Brett Molina, Gabriela Miranda and Asha C. Gilbert

Follow Mike Snider on Twitter: @MikeSnider.

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