White House doubles down on affordable broadband with central sign-up

The last couple years have driven home the necessity of a decent broadband connection to take part in today’s work and entertainment worlds. But internet access can be expensive or slow in many places — which is why the FCC and White House are expanding efforts to lower prices and improve access.

The FCC in particular was quick to act (though due to red tape, a little slow in pulling off) in the matter of mass subsidy of broadband for people in need. By now however it has given out billions of dollars to cover the costs of improving school and home connections that would either be too slow or too expensive.

The Biden/Harris White House is touting its participation now with a new, ultra-simple sign-up process at GetInternet.gov, where you can check if you’re eligible to receive a reduced rate or upgraded service.

In brief, you qualify to have at least $30/month of your internet bill covered by the feds if you participate in practically any government assistance program (like Medicaid, subsidized lunch programs or SNAP) or if your income is at or below twice the Federal Poverty Level. It’s estimated that about 48 million households qualify in total, so don’t be shy.

The fund and subsidy itself isn’t new, and you may at some point have signed up through the FCC, which administers the Affordable Connectivity Program and others. There’s been kind of a procession of easily confused and questionably overlapping assistance programs, but don’t think too hard about it. Check if you’re eligible here and see if your broadband provider is participating, and make the request — you could be paying $30 less next month.

It’s worth noting that the definition of “affordable” and “broadband” are somewhat in flux, not to say dispute, but the Biden administration has a pretty progressive informal definition for the purposes of this and other programs:

…the Biden-Harris Administration asked participating internet service providers to either reduce prices and or raise speeds to offer ACP-eligible households a high-speed internet plan for no more than $30/month. For these purposes, the Administration views a sufficiently high-speed plan as one that offers download speeds of at least 100 Megabits per second everywhere that the provider’s infrastructure is capable of it. That’s fast enough for a typical family of four to work from home, do schoolwork, browse the web, and stream high-definition shows and movies. In addition, the Administration asked providers to offer such plans with no fees and no data caps.

One hundred megabits is a great benchmark for a family connection, $30 is a fair price and having no caps (though this is far from universal) is an important ask as well — if you’ve got three or four people using streaming as their main form of entertainment and meetings, you’d be surprised how fast a terabyte gets eaten up. And with the matching $30 subsidy, the bill pretty much evaporates.

All the companies listed here went for it, and between Comcast, Frontier, Spectrum, Cox and Verizon alone, that’s a pretty large proportion of the country already.