Federal program offers big WiFi discounts and reduced-price devices

FAR WEST TEXAS – The Emergency Broadband Benefit Program is offering financial relief on broadband services while funding lasts, and local provider Big Bend Telephone has joined the program, offering relief to customers affected by the pandemic.

The federal initiative has 3.2 billion dollars of funding to help reduce costs for high speed internet for eligible households and customers can enroll until that funding runs out.

The benefit is an up to $50 per month discount for broadband services, an up to $75 per month discount for broadband services for households on Tribal lands; and a one-time discount of up to $100 for a laptop, desktop computer, or tablet purchased through a participating provider. Households can sign up for a monthly service discount and are limited to one device discount.

There are five ways a household can qualify to participate in the program to get subsidized internet. The program is open to households if one member of a household:

  • Qualifies for the federal Lifeline program, including those who are on Medicaid or receive SNAP benefits;
  • Receives benefits under the free and reduced-price school lunch program or the school breakfast program, including through the USDA Community Eligibility Provision, or did so in the 2019-2020 or 2020-2021 school year;
  • Experienced a substantial loss of income since February 29, 2020, and the household had a total income in 2020 below $99,000 for single filers and $198,000 for joint filers;
  • Received a Federal Pell Grant in the current award year; or
  • Meets the eligibility criteria for a participating provider’s existing low-income or COVID-19 program.

In Alpine, Marfa and Presidio, residents with children qualify to participate in the program because the school districts qualify for and receive free lunch for all students.

“It’s a slam dunk in my eyes,” said Anna Fuentez, the business office supervisor at BBT. “If I had a child at Alpine ISD, I’d jump on that and start saving up to $50/month for at least a few months.”

BBT is also able to offer Amazon Fire HD Tablet devices, and subscribers can purchase one for $15, with the rest of the price subsidized by the program.

“We’re trying to help us get the word out because we’ve had some response but not a whole lot,” Fuentez said. The program opened on May 12, and remains open until funds run out. “Even though it might be a temporary program,” she said, “I think it could be beneficial to anyone that qualifies.”

To qualify and enroll, visit GetEmergencyBroadband.org from any computer or mobile device to complete the electronic application. Once the electronic application has been successfully completed and approved, eligible households must contact BBT’s business office at 1.800.592.4781 to enroll in the program.