Exclusive: White House boasts 1 million enrollments in affordable broadband program

White House officials call it a milestone and a concrete example of the administration’s efforts to cut costs for Americans amid high inflation. It will take some time for many other infrastructure projects funded by the bipartisan bill – new roads and bridges, for example – to come to full fruition due to planning and approval processes and implementation. under construction. But the connectivity program is a rare effort yielding almost immediate and tangible benefits, a critical victory the administration can tout ahead of the midterm elections in November.

“It’s about cutting costs and giving people opportunity. The effort was very aggressive. It’s happened in the last two months. It’s hundreds of millions of dollars in savings for families. Americans,” Mitch Landrieu, the former mayor of New Orleans now tasked with implementing the White House infrastructure bill, said in an interview with CNN. “And that’s because everyone pitched in. And each of the federal agencies reached out to all of our people across the country and worked hard to continue enrolling Americans, that’s so an important step that we have taken.”

The program provides eligible households with a monthly credit of $30 towards the cost of their internet service plan, or a monthly credit of $75 for households living on tribal lands. U.S. households with an income at or below 200% of the poverty level are eligible, as well as any household with at least one member participating in Medicaid, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for women, infants, and children, Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Federal Pell Grants, and other programs.

An administration official estimated that a staggering 40% of US households are eligible for credit. Nearly 13 million households have signed up to date, including one million since President Joe Biden and Harris launched the GetInternet.gov campaign at a May 9 event at the White House, a 35% increase .

“We still have a long way to go before we get the entire eligible population. But that’s why we keep pushing so hard on it. Every household we enroll, it guarantees them $360 in annual savings And in many cases, it can be the difference between having no internet at all and having high-speed internet, which has all sorts of benefits,” National Economic Council Deputy Director Bharat Ramamurti told CNN. .

Proponents call the program a success so far.

Ross Lieberman, senior vice president of government affairs at ACA Connects, an advocacy group for small and medium-sized fixed broadband internet providers, called it an “unqualified success”.

“We have new subscribers who have not subscribed before. … It has also reduced costs for some people who are already subscribers, okay, who have become eligible through this program and it has helped them in their current environment It’s helped them better afford all the things they need from today, so I think it’s definitely been a success,” Lieberman said, noting that registrations continue to rise. month after month.

Broadband providers – including both the largest providers and more than 300 ACA Connects members, many of whom are in smaller markets and rural areas – are participating in the program, and many have reduced their prices or increased speeds for eligible people, Lieberman said.

“Instead of the typical finger pointing that happens in Washington when there is a problem, in this case stakeholders came together on an effective solution and are now working together to solve it for all Americans in all regions. of the country,” he said.

Shirley Bloomfield, CEO of NCTA – The Rural Broadband Association, told CNN the program will help both build networks but also ensure “people can actually use those networks.” Many of the independent telecommunications companies Bloomfield represents have participated in the Pandemic Emergency Broadband Assistance Program, and the Affordable Connectivity Program is taking a step forward to bolster that connectivity for those who need it.

“Broadband access in rural areas is already expensive because you just don’t have as many subscribers to spread the cost over, so having this type of program is going to be really essential,” Bloomfield said.

The disparities between Americans who had high-speed internet and those who did not have been highlighted during the Covid-19 pandemic, especially for students needing high-speed internet for learning. virtual. Getting more internet access for Americans — and making it more affordable for those who already have it — is a “top priority” for the White House, Ramamurti and Landrieu said.

It’s hard to reach Americans to let them know about the program and their eligibility, and the White House is still scrambling to get the word out. There was significant sign-up engagement through direct mail and text messaging, Ramamurti said. And the Department of Education, for example, will alert all current Pell Grant recipients of their eligibility by email this summer.

Harris is sending letters to all 50 governors on Thursday “encouraging them to spread the word in their states to sign up,” said Harris senior communications adviser Herbie Ziskend.

The letter, obtained by CNN, includes step-by-step guidance on best practices and ways states can help raise awareness.

“Our administration is doubling down on registration efforts and we hope you will continue your work to register households in your state,” Harris wrote.

In Massachusetts, for example, the Commonwealth texted people they thought were eligible through the SNAP program, which led to a doubling of enrollment in the following days, according to Ramamurti. Officials hope other states will follow suit and come up with other new solutions.

Bloomfield suggested that, much like efforts to educate Americans about Covid-19 vaccines through their healthcare providers, there should be more “tools in the hands of broadband providers who are in the community” to help encourage sign-ups.

Biden announced shortly after taking office in a joint address to Congress that he had tasked Harris to help advocate for funding for broadband infrastructure.

“She took this assignment, traveled the country, met with vendors and Americans, called in legislators and worked to get this into the final bill,” Ziskend said, adding that Harris had previously sponsored the law on the top. accessible and affordable broadband while she was in the Senate. .

Another White House official noted that Harris was personally struck by the divide exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic for students nationwide. A lack of broadband accessibility has led to learning loss, lack of opportunity and longer-term educational impacts for many young Americans, the official said.

The bipartisan infrastructure package, passed in November 2021, included a $65 billion federal investment in broadband.

During a trip to a community center in Charlotte, North Carolina, on Thursday, Harris will meet people enrolled in the Connectivity Program at a local community center and offer remarks about the investment, Ziskend said.

About Therese Williams

Check Also

Watch: US Vice President Kamala Harris visits restaurant on Election Day, says this | world news

US Vice President Kamala Harris and her husband Doug Emhoff stopped at John O’Groats restaurant …