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FCC Offering Help To Expand Access To Broadband

Courtesy of North Carolina Broadband Infrastructure Office
A 2019 study by the North Carolina Broadband Infrastructure Office showed that the eight westernmost counties in the state had broadband available to less than 65 percent of the population.

In the eight westernmost counties in the state, much of the population doesn't have access to broadband . Recent data also shows that access to speeds above 25 Mbps are even worse - less than 15 percent in Cherokee, Clay, Graham and Swain Counties. 

The broadband gap has become even more apparent during the pandemic as workers and students moved to working from home via the internet. 

Now the Federal Communications Commission is offering help to expand access to broadband for some households. 

The Emergency Broadband Benefit, provides a $50 discount per month for broadband service, or a $75 discount for homes on tribal land. Those who are eligible can also get up to $100 for a laptop.

North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein encouraged those who are eligible to apply.

“Broadband is absolutely essential for people in North Carolina,” said Stein in a press release. “It helps folks access the economy, telemedicine, and education. Eligible North Carolinians should apply to the Emergency Broadband Benefit today to get help accessing this critical resource.”

If you meet one of these criteria, then you can apply:

  • If you have an income that is at or below 135% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines or participate in assistance programs, such as SNAP, Medicaid, or Lifeline.
  • If you are approved to receive free and reduced-price school lunch program or the school breakfast program, including through the USDA Community Eligibility Provision in the 2019-2020 or 2020-2021 school year.
  • If you received a Federal Pell Grant during the current award year.
  • If you experienced a substantial loss of income due to job loss or furlough since February 29, 2020 and the household had a total income in 2020 at or below $99,000 for single filers and $198,000 for joint filers.
  • If you meet the eligibility criteria for a participating provider's existing low-income or COVID-19 program.

The seven westernmost counties in North Carolina received more than $45 million in federal funding to increase broadband connectivity earlier this year.

Lilly Knoepp is Senior Regional Reporter for Blue Ridge Public Radio. She has served as BPR’s first fulltime reporter covering Western North Carolina since 2018. She is from Franklin, NC. She returns to WNC after serving as the assistant editor of Women@Forbes and digital producer of the Forbes podcast network. She holds a master’s degree in international journalism from the City University of New York and earned a double major from UNC-Chapel Hill in religious studies and political science.