Single mother Angela Sherman knows the financial struggles that come along with procuring internet access.
With a child in high school and working as an assistant first-grade teacher, the internet is essential for her family to perform daily communication and educational activities. While she pays the high costs that sometimes come with accessing the internet, through the Federal Communications Commission’s new Emergency Broadband Benefits, she could soon have the price of her internet service reduced.
“With me being a single parent and having other bills, paying for the internet can be financially hard at times,” Sherman said. “If I qualify for this program, I will have a discount on my internet, which will definitely help the cost of things.”
Because of the rising need of internet access due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the EBB program offers qualifying households $50 off of their monthly internet bill. Mississippi Northern District Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley said the internet has become a part of modern life and accessing it is essential in the success of all individuals.
“This $50 is coming at a time when we know Americans and Mississippians need it more than ever,” Presley said. “… The fact that we have all gone to online learning and really have transferred the way that we do business in this country is going to prove to be a time when affordability of the internet is very important.”
Presley hosted a workshop Thursday evening at Sudduth Elementary School to help those interested in the area apply for the discount. Households that are eligible for the reduction are those that have children who receive free or reduced lunches or college students who receive the Federal Pell Grant, possess a household income of less than 135 percent of the Federal Poverty Guidelines ($35,775 for a family of four) or participate in certain assistance programs such as Medicaid.
Eligible households must both apply for the program and contact a participating provider to select a service plan. The carriers in the Starkville area participating in EBB are FASTnet through 4-County Electric Power, MaxxSouth Broadband, AT&T and C Spire. New or current customers can apply for the program.
Once an individual qualifies, the bill from their carrier is reduced by $50. The FCC will then reimburse the carrier each month for these costs.
“Looking to the future, this program is looking to be a permanent program,” Presley said. “The federal government may not give $50 a month. It may go down to $30, but that is still a significant discount for those struggling to pay their broadband bill.”
A leg up for education access
Since the initiation of this program, Presley said 80,081 Mississippi residents have applied so far. Presley’s visit to Sudduth was his first sign-up event at any school district throughout the state. He said he hopes to host more workshops like this in order for individuals, students especially, to have internet access.
Affordability is a key factor in a financially hard time such as this, Presley said, noting that children and parents have been hit the hardest from the pandemic due to online learning. He said the EBB program allows children to learn anywhere on the planet. Once a child graduates high school, he said they will not enter a world where internet access is less needed, and this program makes their lives just a bit easier.
“We want to be in a better shape for what that household experience is for if that child has to go back home (for online learning) and not have a public policy that says it’s OK for folks to do their homework in the McDonalds parking lot,” Presley said. “That’s unacceptable.”
4-County General Manager Brian Clark said his business’s mission is to improve the quality of life for all those 4-County touches, and if the federal government is going to provide a program to help customers, then he is happy to participate. 4-County began a vast expansion to counties across the Golden Triangle to help individuals in rural areas gain internet access.
“The internet is a way of life now,” Clark said. “You have to have it in the world we live in. You have to have it to communicate. You have to have it to educate. You have to have it for your health. We’re just excited to participate in a program like this.”
Starkville-Oktibbeha Consolidated School District Superintendent Eddie Peasant said having internet access at home is necessary to the education and growth of students across the district. While some families do not have access yet, through programs such as this, more children can learn online, making a difference for students and the community.
“I view internet access, as an educator, as just like having access to information just like when I was growing up I had access to encyclopedias,” Peasant said. “I lived in a home where we could not afford encyclopedias, but we found ways to get to it. In today’s world, having access to the internet is just like having a set of encyclopedias in your home and more. There’s so much more our students will have access to at home.”