How to get free broadband internet in Southern California

Lower-income Americans now have more options for free high-speed Internet access, including at least eight providers serving Southern California, the White House announced Monday.

The federal government launched the Affordable Connectivity Program late last year to provide a $30 per month subsidy to households with incomes no more than twice the federal poverty level. But that allowance is less than what many internet service providers charge for a high-speed connection that’s fast enough to support a whole family of active users.

On Monday, the White House revealed that 20 broadband providers across the country, including the five largest cable and telephone companies, have agreed to provide “enough high-speed” connections at rates that are low. charges no more than $30 a month for qualified homes. Eight of those serve communities in Southern California: AT&T, Comcast, Cox, Frontier, Mediacom, Spectrum, Starry, and Verizon.

As part of the deal, the White House said, Spectrum – which serves much of LA County – doubled bandwidth with a $30-per-month offering from 50 to 100 megabits per second to eligible households. to sue. And Verizon has slashed the price of its 200 Mbps wired offering from $40 to $30 per month.

Many other California internet providers participate in the Affordable Connect Program, including some like TruConnect, which offer mobile broadband service. The only tools highlighted by the White House are those that provide connections with free 100 Mbps download speeds to eligible households.

However, eliminating the cost of broadband connections only removes one of the barriers to wider internet adoption. Sunne Wright McPeak, head of the California Emerging Technology Fund, said other barriers include the need for a smart device and the know-how needed to use it.

The biggest problem, however, may be that most people who qualify for benefits don’t know or care about them. For example, nearly half of the households in Los Angeles County have incomes low enough to qualify for federal benefits, McPeak said, but less than a quarter of those are registered. And the rest can be hard to come by; for example, they are not likely to see the broadband provider’s online advertisements touting subsidies.

The White House said Monday that it is trying to raise the profile of the program by requiring federal safety net agencies to notify participants about it and by working on efforts outreach of interest groups. The California Legislature is also considering a bill (AB 2751) that would require broadband providers doing business with the state to provide and advertise affordable internet connections to low-income households. lower input.

Here’s how to find out if you’re eligible for benefits and which broadband providers offer them.

Am I eligible, and how do I apply?

The income cut is 200% of the federal poverty level, which is higher for larger households. For an individual, the threshold is $27,180 per year. For a family of four, that’s $55,500.

But there’s an easier way to check your eligibility: You’re eligible for the program if anyone in your household is enrolled in at least one of the 10 types of safety net programs. including food stamps, Medicaid, Supplemental Security Income, Pell benefits, and federally subsidized public housing. Recipients of selected tribal welfare programs are also eligible, and the benefit on tribal lands is higher: $75 a month.

To see if you are eligible or to submit an application, you can visit the White House “Get Internet” website, which can walk you through the process. A mailing application is also available on the Get Internet site; it can also be found at the Affordable Connect Program’s registration instructions page. However, all of those resources require internet access and a computer, tablet or smartphone.

If you have questions about how to apply but don’t have an Internet connection, you can call the program’s help center toll-free: (877) 384-2575.

Once your application is approved, benefits will go directly to the participating broadband provider of your choice. To find a program in your area, check the program’s listing, which you can search by ZIP Code or city. The list includes more than 90 participating providers near Los Angeles, although many of them are companies that resell services on one of the major wireless networks.

If you already have internet access, your broadband provider may have its own application process. You should start by checking with your ISP.

What services are there?

The subsidy will pay for a fixed line to your home or a mobile broadband connection to your smartphone. You’ll likely get more bandwidth from a fixed connection – wireless service providers often impose much lower limits on how much data you can use per month.

The federal program also includes $100 off cheap laptops and tablets, but not many broadband providers offer device subsidies. The only exception among the state’s largest telephone and cable companies is Cox, which serves Santa Barbara and much of Orange and San Diego counties.

There is an additional $10-a-month federal grant, called Lifeline, that companies in most states can combine with the Affordable Connectivity Program to fund services for low-income households. eligible low-income families. Meanwhile, California has its own Lifeline grant, which adds about $15.50 to federal Lifeline aid.

But Matt Johnson, TruConnect’s co-CEO, said California is the only state that won’t allow wireless companies to bundle Lifeline and the Affordable Connect Program into one enhanced service for customers. . Cable TV and wired phone companies can do it, he said — a point disputed by the California Public Utilities Commission — but for wireless customers, it’s one thing or another. As a result, he said, TruConnect cannot provide as much bandwidth to eligible households in California as it does in other states.

Terrie D. Prosper, a spokeswoman for CPUC, said in an email that wireless and wired broadband providers are currently receiving the same amount of subsidies, with no providers combined. Lifeline benefits and the Affordable Connect Program. The committee is considering staff proposals to change that policy, she said.

How many people still need broadband?

A survey last year by USC and the California Emerging Technology Fund found that 91% of Californians interviewed had access to the internet. But the survey also found that more than a quarter of low-income Californians polled either had no internet service (16%) or only used a data plan on their smartphone (10%).

The survey’s authors say not having a high-speed connection at home makes it significantly more difficult to work, study or get medical care remotely. In other words, this puts low-income households at a greater disadvantage than they currently are.

One benefit of the White House’s latest effort, McPeak said, is that it will increase access to low-income households by trusted authorities. Such efforts can produce significant results, she says; When her team and LA County joined in an effort to spread the word about broadband subsidies late last year, student enrollment in the county increased 43% in about three weeks.

But many of these families still need reliable sources to persuade and support them to go online, McPeak said. That requires funding community-based groups that can overcome language and cultural barriers to adopt and improve digital skills, she said.

How long will the subsidy last?

Unlike its predecessor, the now-defunct Emergency Broadband Fund, the Affordable Connections Program has no expiration date. But Congress can choose at any time to cut off the funding, which is one reason the California Emerging Technology Fund is pushing for AB 2751, which would keep a version of the program alive if the federal government give it up. How to get free broadband internet in Southern California

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