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All families with children in New York City public schools are eligible for discounted internet and hardware services thanks to a temporary federal program, but only a fraction of eligible families appear to have signed up for the six-month-old program.
Education department officials are trying to spread the word about the program, in which families can get a discount of up to $50 per month on broadband services and equipment. Families can also get a one-time discount of up to $100 on a laptop, tablet, or desktop computer.
The rebate is part of the $3.2 billion Temporary Emergency Broadband Benefits Program, which was launched in May as part of the response to the COVID public health crisis. The city’s Department of Education promoted the program in a recent issue of its family-oriented blog.
The program will continue “when the fund runs out of money” or six months after the US Department of Health and Human Services declares the end of the pandemic — whichever occurs first, according to the program’s website.
According to federal data, about $2.5 billion remains — or 78% of the original pot of money.
Nearly a fifth of New York City students lack home and mobile broadband services, and 40% of students only own one or the other, according to De Blasio’s administration’s internet master plan released last year.
Everyone is eligible
Any family with children at schools that offer free meals through the USDA’s Community Eligibility Requirement can sign up for this program — which means it’s available to all students enrolled in New York City public schools, according to a spokesperson for the city’s Department of Education.
Families must apply and find a broadband service provider in their area to participate in the program. Families can also check to see if their current providers are participating in the program. It then offers broadband service to eligible families at a discounted rate and is reimbursed by the federal government.
Families also qualify for a number of other reasons, including if they received certain benefits, such as SNAP, or lost a job in the past year and had total household income in 2020 of $99,000 for individual tax filers or $198,000 for subscribers.
Nearly 6.6 million households nationwide are enrolled in the program, including more than 433,000 households across New York state, according to data collected by the Federal Communications Commission as of October 18.
While that puts New York fourth in terms of number of participants, after Florida, Texas and California, it still appears to be well below the number of families eligible for benefits.
For example, as of July, 1.6 million New York households were receiving SNAP benefits and were therefore eligible for this Internet program. Federal officials did not have data on citywide program enrollment numbers.
Pay a low cost broadband plan
While New York City public schools are open for full-time in-person learning, students may still have to rely on virtual learning if they are quarantined because they test positive for COVID or are considered to have close contact with an infected person.
Officials spent $257 million on 511,000 Internet-enabled iPads purchased from the 2019-20 school year through last school year, plus $4 million a month for data plans, according to a review by Comptroller Scott Stringer.
In the spring, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that he was seeking proposals from Internet and telecommunications companies to create and manage new open-access fiber-optic cable networks, with the ultimate goal of expanding low-cost broadband service.
He pledged to commit $157 million in capital dollars to the project, which targets more than 30 high-need neighborhoods in all five neighborhoods that have been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic and also lack adequate broadband infrastructure.
Officials expected the first round of contracts to be issued by November.