COVID-Relief Program Helps with Internet Bills
Friday, June 4, 2021
PIERRE, S.D. -- Even though the pandemic is easing, households are still trying to recover from the crisis, and to help, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is providing direct payments toward internet bills to people who sign up for the Emergency Broadband Benefit.
Marty Newell, chief operating officer at the Center for Rural Strategies, said if you're eligible, internet service providers will deduct $50 from your bill every month, until the program runs out of money or the pandemic is declared over by health officials.
He added the program is a step toward equalizing broadband access, but pointed out it's a stopgap solution to a systemic problem.
"What we really want to do in this country is make it so, in the same way that we did with telephones and with electricity, everybody has access to a reasonably affordable option," Newell explained.
People who lost income during the pandemic and make less than $198,000 dollars per year could be eligible. For help on finding out if you're eligible and how to apply, visit ebbhelp.org or call the program's hotline at 833-511-0311.
Beyond emergency aid, responding to broadband gaps has been a priority for lawmakers from both parties. Gov. Kristi Noem recently touted the state's $100 million investment in expanding high-speed internet.
Jessica Schaap, a rural South Dakota resident, said the effort has been a big help for her family after struggling with spotty connections.
"My kids had to go into, during the pandemic, they had to go into town and sit in the parking lots to be able to do their homework," Schaap recounted.
Advocates of boosting online access say those stories of seeking out Wi-Fi hotspots have been common during the crisis.
According to the FCC, 95% of South Dakota residents have high-speed internet access, but that falls to 89% for rural populations.
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