Emergency Broadband Benefit brings internet to Berkeley households

photo of a laptop with the wifi settings open
Antonio Martin/Staff
Households in Berkeley acquire internet access with the help of the Federal Communications Commission, which is provided through the Berkeley Public Schools Fund.

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As the COVID-19 pandemic brought an increased reliance on online instruction, hundreds of Berkeley households have enrolled in the Emergency Broadband Benefit, or EBB, program for help affording internet access.

The EBB, which started enrollment May 2021, is a temporary federal relief program run by the Federal Communications Commission, or FCC, that provides eligible low-income households with discounts on monthly broadband costs and device purchases during the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to the FCC website, the EBB provides up to $50 a month toward internet service and a one-time discount of up to $100 for purchasing devices from participating providers.

“When you think about all those families that either didn’t have internet before or because of job loss weren’t able to pay for internet — that’s a huge amount of families,” said Valerie Kratzer, development and outreach coordinator for the Berkeley Public Schools Fund.

According to the FCC website, household eligibility is determined by meeting one of several criteria, including whether households have an income at or below 135% of the federal poverty line, receive a Pell Grant or receive benefits under a free or reduced-price school lunch program.

Eligible households then apply for the EBB program and contact a participating provider to choose a service plan.

According to Kratzer, an estimated 839 Berkeley households have signed up through the EBB program as of this week. And as of Sept. 27, over 700,000 households have enrolled across California, according to the EBB program tracker.

Approximately $600 million of the $3.14 trillion in funding has been dispersed, and the program will last until either the remaining $2.5 trillion funds are exhausted or six months after the government declares an official end to the pandemic, according to the EBB program tracker.

“I’m really hoping it gets extended even after that time,” Kratzer said. “COVID just brought to the forefront the amount of students that didn’t have internet at home, and that’s just not acceptable even after COVID is over.”

Kratzer noted that many students have continued to face internet speed and reliability issues with prior service providers. The Berkeley Public Schools Fund has also partnered with internet provider Sonic to supply internet service to households in the Berkeley Unified School District, according to Kratzer and Sonic Senior Marketing Manager Cooper Niswonger.

The $50 monthly benefit, which is paid directly to Sonic, covers a Berkeley household’s monthly internet service charge under Sonic’s $50 plan, according to Kratzer.

Through social media and districtwide communications, Kratzer said the Berkeley Public Schools Fund has worked to spread the word and help families sign up for the EBB program. Kratzer said she still wants to notify more Berkeley households that can benefit from the program before it ends.

“I’d just like to get out the word, get as many families as possible — not even just families, anybody who is low income that can get on this,” Kratzer said. “The more internet access people have, the better.”

Contact Cindy Liu and Alexander Wohl at [email protected].