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Broadband discount program for low-income households

Local governments send letter to FCC to make Polk County eligible

POLK COUNTY—The Federal Communications Commission adopted on Feb. 25 a federally funded broadband discount program to help households afford Internet service during the pandemic. 

Polk County residents are eligible thanks to local officials writing a letter to FCC Secretary Marlene H. Dortch concerning the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program. 

Tryon Mayor Pro-Tem Chrelle Booker said she worked with Polk County Manager Marche Pittman and sent a letter regarding Polk County residents. Booker is a member of the National League of Cities Information Technology and Communications Committee. 

Booker said the FCC intends to open the program to eligible households within 60 days as providers sign up and systems are put in place. 

“This is good for Polk County,” Booker said. “Local governments are going to have an important role to play in encouraging our local broadband providers and qualifying residents to participate in the program.” 

The Emergency Broadband Benefit Program is a $3.2 billion federal initiative to provide qualifying household discounts on their Internet service bills and an opportunity to receive a discount on a computer or tablet. 

The program passed unanimously and is designed to lower the cost of high-speed Internet service for those struggling to get the connectivity they need during the pandemic. 

Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said this program will help those people sitting in a car in parking lots just to catch a Wi-Fi signal to go online for work. 

“It will help those lingering outside the library with a laptop just to get a wireless signal for remote learning,” Rosenworcel said. “It will help those who worry about choosing between paying a broadband bill and paying rent or buying groceries. In short, this program can make a meaningful difference in the lives of people across the country.” 

The Emergency Broadband Benefit Program will provide eligible households with discounts of up to $50 a month for broadband service, and up to $75 a month if the household is on Tribal lands. It also will provide a one-time discount of up to $100 on a computer or tablet for eligible households, according to the FCC.

Under the law, the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program is open to households that participate in an existing low-income or pandemic relief program offered by a broadband provider; Lifeline subscribers, including those that are on Medicaid or accept SNAP benefits; households with kids receiving free and reduced-price lunch or school breakfast; Pell grant recipients; and those who have lost jobs and seen their income reduced in the last year.

Following is Booker’s letter to Dortch to include Polk County in the program: 

Dear Ms. Dortch:

Polk County is the fifth-smallest county in North Carolina and is 92% rural. The population is 20,724.

Because of our size, I am submitting this letter on behalf of the towns and cities that make up the county: Columbus, Cooper’s Gap, Green Creek, Saluda, Tryon, and White Oak. There are 87.7% households with computers and 77.3% households with a broadband Internet subscription. The per capita income is $30,756 and 12.1% of the people live in poverty. Children under 5 years make up

3.8% of the population, 15.7% under 18 and 32.1% are over 65 (Data sourced from, The United States Census Bureau, Quick Facts, July 1, 2019). The Emergency Broadband Benefit Program is important for our community because Polk County residents, especially our students and those working from home, were re-introduced to the lack of sufficient and or limited services, sources and resources during the Coronavirus Pandemic. Some totally lacked the ability to perform their work and others had to travel in order to connect with available hotspots. Our citizens need the flexibility to participate in their education and employment online as needed during times of crisis. We don’t have the same flexibility to price shop for broadband services like more populous cities. In most cases, there is only one available ISP. Therefore, citizens can’t find a reasonable alternative to broadband without some financial assistance. People who are low to moderate income don’t have options to sign up for service if it is cost prohibitive.

We are asking the Federal Communications Commission to rule that participating providers offer all of their broadband options to the entire service areas. Our focus have been on getting more service providers to all areas of Polk County, which should in turn drive down prices. The Emergency

Broadband Benefit Program will be a tremendous help as we work to get more connectivity to our residents.

We do not have a broadband provider that is part of our municipal governments nor our county government. Our county partners work extensively with a 501c3 non-profit to help get broadband to as much of the community as possible. Federal and State funding hasn’t been substantially available and has caused all providers to fall short in their attempt, but with good efforts.

Tying the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program to the USDA Community Eligibility Provision, school lunch program, would be the easiest way to ensure that there has been some vetting of the people who desire to participate. It would also serve as a mechanism to market the discount program.

We believe this will avoid waste, fraud, and abuse.

We encourage the FCC and providers to use media and social platforms to promote and raise awareness of the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program. Providers should educate and inform customers of every aspect of the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program when in personal communication with them. Providers should give participating households at least 30 days’ notice of their benefit ending, clearly indicated in writing, and offer to transition those households to any discount programs the provider may offer that the household qualifies for. School administrators using their social platforms along with municipalities and counties using their forms of communications can disseminate a clear message that will reach the majority of citizens.

We respectfully submit this comment letter to urge the Federal Communications Commission to ensure that the Polk County, NC community, its municipal and county governments and all communities across America can access the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program on behalf our citizens. We encourage providers and the FCC to work directly with local governments to ensure the benefit reaches as many eligible households as possible.

Cordially,

Chrelle Booker

Mayor Pro Tempore

Tryon, North Carolina