Biden, Internet providers seek to boost subsidized broadband adoption

Washington – Twenty Internet service providers, including AT&T company ,

Comcast Corp. and Verizon Communications Inc. , on improving the subsidized high-speed Internet plans it provides to millions of unconnected families, as part of the Biden administration’s campaign to publicize a program created in last year’s bipartisan Infrastructure Act.

The moves will bolster the about-year-old affordable calling program, which has not reached all eligible subscribers in part because many of the neediest users aren’t online in the first place. Other consumers don’t realize that more than a third of the country qualifies for the $30 per month discount. Analysts say the additional signups will be a boon for providers.

Administration officials announced the enhanced plans for the service providers ahead of an event at the White House on Monday with President Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, communications executives and members of Congress.

Several companies, which cover more than 80% of the US population, agreed on Monday to either increase the internet speeds they offer through the program or lower their rates to $30 per month for low-income families and other eligible families.

A spokesperson for AT&T, which offers such a plan, said that at this price, the high-speed internet plan is effectively free for families who qualify for the support.

Other ISPs said their subsidized broadband plans already meet these criteria but are committed to making it easier to sign up for the service in stores and over the phone.

In addition to AT&T, Comcast, and Verizon Fios, other participating service providers include Cox Communications Inc. and Charter Communications company ,

border communications corp.

and regional service providers such as the Jackson Energy Authority of Tennessee and Comporium Inc. in Carolina and Vermont Telephone Co.

During his presidential campaign, he was Mr. Biden often spoke of broadband services as a necessity and noted the plight of families waiting in fast-food parking lots to access wireless internet during the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Clearly getting more people in need of communication is good news for the digital divide,” said Craig Moffett, communications analyst with Moffett Nathanson Research. “But businesses also benefit.”

The lower rates are backed by a $65 billion program to build the nation’s broadband network through the nearly $1 trillion Infrastructure Act approved by Congress in 2021. While most state and territory broadband money will be given to fiber-optic cable projects, The law also provides $14 billion to pay for the affordable communication program.

The monthly support grew out of a temporary effort by internet providers to keep Americans online during the early months of the coronavirus pandemic. Congress later strengthened the emergency program by funding low-cost plans with a monthly support of $50. The Infrastructure Act passed last year expanded the assistance program but cut the monthly support to $30.

According to the Federal Communications Commission, which oversees the subsidy, about 11.5 million households have signed up for the monthly benefits. On Monday, officials cited a Columbia University paper estimating there are as many as 48 million eligible families, which the department is trying to enroll in the program. There were about 128 million occupied families in the United States as of the end of March, according to the United States Census.

Assistance is available to families with incomes of 200% or less of the Federal Poverty Guidelines or for those who qualify for a state assistance program such as Medicaid, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance, or the Federal Pell Grant. Monthly support jumps to $75 for families in tribal lands.

The support can be used to pay for mobile plans as well, and many recipients choose this option, according to federal data. But many families still do not have internet access at home through a cable or fiber-optic connection.

As part of that effort, the administration is launching a new website, GetInternet.gov, to give Americans details on how to sign up for benefits or find participating Internet providers in their area.

The White House said it would use agencies like the Social Security Administration to tell people about broadband subsidies. Other federal agencies, along with states and cities, intend to promote the program.

write to Ken Thomas at ken.thomas@wsj.com and Drew Fitzgerald at andrew.fitzgerald@wsj.com

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