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COVID-19 and Internet and cellphone services

Produced by Massachusetts Law Reform Institute and Greater Boston Legal Services
Reviewed May, 2021

Temporary Emergency Broadband Benefit

The federal government has a new program called the Emergency Broadband Benefit (EBB) to help low-income households pay for Internet services during the COVID-19 pandemic. The program begins May 12, 2021.

What is EBB?

EBB, the Emergency Broadband Benefit, is a new national benefit program that provides:

  • a temporary discount on monthly broadband bills from participating providers, and
  • a one-time discount for an eligible device for qualifying households.

How much help can I get?

Internet

You can get up to $50 off your monthly bill for Internet service and associated equipment rentals.

You can get up to $75 off if you live on eligible Tribal lands. You do not need to be a member of the Tribe.

Device

You can also get a one-time discount of up to $100 for a laptop, tablet, or desktop computer. You will have to pay between $10 and $50 for the device. Only some providers offer the device discount.

Can I get EBB?

You can get EBB if:

  • Your income is 135% less than the Federal Poverty Level. Or
  • Your yearly income is less than $99,000 and you experienced a significant loss of income since Feb. 29, 2020 because you lost your job or you were furloughed. If you file jointly, your combined yearly income must be less than $198,000. Or
  • Your household qualifies for a low-income or COVID-19 program that a participating provider already offers. Or
  • At least one member of your household gets help from:
    • Medicaid (Most types of MassHealth),
    • Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP),
    • Supplemental Security Income (SSI),
    • Federal Public Housing Assistance,
    • Veterans’ Pension and Survivors’ Benefit,
    • Pell Grant in the current award year,
    • Lifeline,
    • Tribal Programs,
    • National School Lunch Program in the 2019-20 or 2020-21 school year.
    • The Community Eligibility Provision (CEP)  that provides universal free meals to students in some schools..

If you qualify, you can get still get EBB even if:

  • you owe your Internet provider past bills, or
  • your bills have gone to collections.

You can be a new customer or an existing customer of a participating provider.

How long will EBB last?

The EBB Program ends when one of these 2 things happens:

  • The money for the program runs out, or
  • 6 months after the COVID-19 health emergency ends, .

When can I apply for EBB?

You can apply for EBB starting on May 12th, 2021. See GetEmergencyBroadband.org.

How do I apply for EBB?

You can:

  1. Enroll in person with an Internet provider who is participating in EBB.
  2. Apply online.
  3. Apply by mail.
    1. Print an application in English, Spanish or one of 8 other languages.
    2. Complete the application, household worksheet, and send with proof of eligibility to:
      Emergency Broadband Support Center
      P.O. Box 7081
      London, KY 40742

If you are getting Lifeline or participating in a provider’s low-income or COVID-19 plan, you can just "opt in" to get EBB. You do not need to apply.

When you apply for EBB, you will need to submit documents that prove:

Which Internet companies are "participating providers"?

See the list of providers participating in EBB on the Federal Communications Commission's website.

When you look for a provider think about:

  • Coverage in your area. See the Companies near me tool to help you find a provider in your area.
  • Which service you need more - "fixed" or mobile Internet. Fixed Internet service is connected to one place, like your home. Mobile is connected to a device, like your phone.
  • The number of devices you need to connect to the Internet. More devices mean you need more bandwidth.
  • How quickly you need your device to respond. The speed of your Internet service is different from bandwidth.
  • If you need a device. Some providers also offer a discount on laptops, desktops, or tablets or phones.

Can I get help?

Call or Email the EBB Support Center. They are open 7 days a week, from 9:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m.

The EBB Program Support Center can help with questions about:

  • The status of your EBB Program application.
  • Documents needed to show you qualify.
  • Companies in your area.
  • Help with the EBB Program Household Worksheet.
  • Resetting your account.

I am behind on my Internet or cell phone bill and cannot catch up

If you cannot pay your bill because of COVID-19, many internet and cell phone companies will not stop your service. They have also agreed:

  • not to charge you late fees, and
  • to open wi-fi hotspots to people who need them.

Some companies also offer 60 days of free service to new customers. Lifeline companies are giving people more services than usual because of COVID-19. Find out if you can get Lifeline.  See a list of extra COVID-19 benefits companies are offering.

See if your provider is one of the companies who are helping in this emergency

Talk to your provider if you cannot keep up with your bill.  If your phone or internet gets shut off, call Greater Boston Legal Services, Consumer Rights Unit: 617-603-1671. Leave a message.

Internet Service

Comcast is offering the following for free:

  • WiFi network free for Xfinity Internet subscribers  - see www.xfinity.com/wifi  for a map of hotspots
  • Unlimited data for its customers.
  • No disconnects or late fees for customers. Contact them and let them know you are having trouble.
  • Internet Essentials free to new customers: Low-income families who live in a Comcast service area can sign-up for Internet Essentials. New customers will get 60 days of free Internet Essentials service, which is normally available to all qualified low-income households for $9.95/month. For all new and existing Internet Essentials customers, the speed of the program’s Internet service was increased to 25 Mbps downstream and 3 Mbps upstream. That increase will go into effect for no additional fee and it will become the new base speed for the program going forward.

AT&T is offering its WiFi hotspots free for anyone to use around the country for 60 days, as of March 13.

Boston Public Library is offering a WiFi hotspot to anyone 18+ with a library card in good standing from Boston Public Library. More information here.

Find Legal Aid

You may be able to get free legal help from your local legal aid program. Or email a question about your own legal problem to a lawyer.

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