Illinois Broadband Connections Newsletter
Emergency Broadband Benefit Program Now Signing Up Low-Income Participants
The Emergency Broadband Benefit is Live!
On May 12, the Federal Communications Commission launched the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program, providing eligible, low-income households with a discount of up to $50 a month for broadband service. The program also provides a one-time discount of up to $100 on a computer or tablet for eligible households.
Eligible households can enroll through an approved provider or by visiting https://getemergencybroadband.org. They can also print an application and sign up via mail. To learn more offline, call (833) 511-0311.
A household qualifies if it has an income at or below 135% of the federal poverty guidelines or any member of the household qualifies for Lifeline benefits through participation in SNAP, Medicaid, Supplemental Security Income, Federal Public Housing Assistance, or Veterans and Survivors Pension Benefit. Households are also eligible if a school-age student in the household receives free and reduced-price school lunch or the school breakfast program. A household qualifies if a member experienced a substantial loss of income since February 29, 2020 due to job loss or furlough AND has a total household income at or below $99,000 for single filers or $198,000 for joining filers. The Emergency Broadband Benefit is also available to households who are eligible for a broadband provider’s existing low-cost program, and to those who have received a Federal Pell Grant during the current award year. Current Lifeline program participants are eligible to both keep their current subsidized service and to add an Emergency Broadband Benefit supported-service.
Only one monthly service discount and one device discount is allowed per household.
What can broadband advocates and broadband providers do?
• Make sure local internet service providers opt-in to apply to be a part of the program;
• Coordinate outreach efforts to inform eligible populations about the program; and
• Share FCC resources on the program, such as flyers, infographics, and outreach toolkits, including in Spanish and 13 other languages.
How long will the program last?
The Emergency Broadband Benefit was developed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The program will end once program funds are exhausted, or six months after the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services declares an end to the pandemic.
The FCC will be providing updates on the availability of program funds. On May 20, the FCC reported that the program has already enrolled more than one million households in the first week of the program’s debut.
After the program ends, households will need to opt-in or request to continue broadband services with their provider.
NTIA Announces Availability of $288 Million for Broadband Infrastructure Grants
On May 19, the U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) announced the availability of $288 million in grant funding for the deployment of broadband infrastructure. In a Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO), NTIA invites eligible parties to submit applications, provides information on the amount of funding available, discusses how it will allocate funds to qualifying applicants, gives instructions on the application process, and describes the evaluation criteria for application review and the factors for award selection.
The Broadband Infrastructure Program is somewhat unique in requiring what it calls “covered partnerships.” A covered partnership includes a state (or one or more subdivisions of a state, such as counties and cities) and a provider of fixed broadband service. Partnerships can include more than one broadband service provider and service providers can be part of more than one partnership. NTIA encourages municipalities, nonprofits, or cooperatives that own and/or operate broadband networks to participate in this program as part of a covered partnership.
NTIA is also encouraging government entities that are contemplating forming a covered partnership with one or more fixed broadband providers to coordinate and consult with their state’s broadband office or other coordinating body to ensure that the proposal is consistent with a state’s broadband plan or priorities.
To be eligible for a Broadband Infrastructure Program grant, applicants must name the players in a local partnership, describe the project proposed for funding—including the cost of the project and the speed of the broadband service offerings—and identify the proposed service area of the project. Additionally, applicants must disclose any other federal or state support that the broadband service provider that is part of the partnership has received to deploy broadband service in the proposed service area.
NTIA will prioritize applications that:
1. Provide broadband service to the greatest number of households in an eligible service area;
2. Provide broadband service to rural areas;
3. Be most cost-effective in providing broadband service; or
4. Provide broadband service with a download speed of at least 100 Mbps and an upload speed of at least 20 Mbps.
To be fully competitive for this funding, potential applicants in Illinois are strongly encouraged to collaborate with the Illinois Office of Broadband (email@example.com), which will be submitting one or more covered project recommendations to NTIA on behalf of the State of Illinois.
Applications for Broadband Infrastructure Program grants are being accepted through August 17, 2021. NTIA expects to complete its review, selection of successful applicants, and award processing by November 15, 2021 with the earliest start date for awards to be November 29, 2021. By law the projects are to be completed in one year; however, NTIA is creating a process for projects to get extensions to complete work.
NTIA is also holding a series of webinars to further inform the public about the program. The next Broadband Infrastructure webinars will be held on June 9 and 10.
The Benton Institute for Broadband & Society described the program in detail in its Weekly Digest released Friday, May 21:
May 12 Illinois Broadband Advisory Council Meeting
The Illinois Broadband Advisory Council (BAC) held its second quarterly meeting of 2021 on May 12th. The BAC was created by the Illinois General Assembly to focus on policies and programs to remove barriers and foster collaborations to expand broadband access and adoption. The meeting was packed with updates.
The Office of Broadband overviewed programming and mapping updates, highlighting the status and successes of the Broadband READY and Illinois Connected Communities Round One programs. The Connect Illinois Round One awardees have broken ground on projects, which will lead to at least 21,000 new or improved connections to homes, farms, and businesses. Round Two projects are under review and will be announced this summer.
PCs for People provided an update on the Illinois Computer Equity Network, which is expanding its footprint in Illinois with a distribution center and retail store in the Metro East region (Belleville) and in Cook County.
Heather Hampton-Knodle, an Illinois resident and member of the FCC Precision Agriculture Task Force, provided an overview of Task Force recommendations related to broadband deployment and leveraging funds in rural hard to reach areas.
Finally, Benton Senior Fellow and Public Advocate, Gigi Sohn, gave the BAC an update on all of the exciting federal activities around broadband.
More information regarding the Broadband Advisory Council, its next meeting, and planned working groups can be found here.
Connect Illinois Round 1: Wabash Communications Breaks Ground
The Wabash Communications Co-op announced that work has begun on its fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) broadband service to currently unserved portions of Clay County in South Central Illinois. The $3.2 million investment, made in partnership with the State of Illinois, will bring over 24 miles of fiber and extend 1Gbps symmetrical service to 659 unserved households, businesses, farms, and community anchor institutions throughout the county.
“For the residents of Clay City, access to reliable, high-speed internet service has been a challenge in our community—and became increasingly challenging as the pandemic has made internet a necessity for school, work, and healthcare,” said Mayor Rod Franklin. “Thanks to this public and private partnership, and the investments being made by Governor Pritzker and the State of Illinois through the Connect Illinois program and Wabash Communications, our community will be able to access broadband services and be connected with the tools needed in their everyday lives.”
Wabash expects to begin providing service to its first customers under this partnership later in 2021 and has committed to completing the project by July 2022.
Digital Inclusion Week Indeed
News and Resources
May 19 | Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) Op-Ed | A lesson from the pandemic: Every American household needs and deserves reliable internet service (Chicago Sun-Times)
May 10 | Commissioner, activists say Cook County’s COVID-19 relief money should fund social programs – including broadband internet, not jails (Chicago Sun-Times)
The 2021 Developing Broadband Leadership Webinar Series:
June 15 | The Community Role in Post-Pandemic Broadband Deployment
June 29 | Broadband 101
July 13 | Broadband Funding nad Broadband Partnerships
July 27 | Moving a Broadband Project Foward
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