How to Get Free Broadband Internet in Southern California

Low-income Americans now have more options for free high-speed Internet access, including at least eight providers serving Southern California, the White House announced Monday.

The federal government created the Affordable Connectivity Program late last year to provide $30 a month in subsidies to households with incomes no more than double the federal poverty line. But that subsidy was less than what many ISPs charged for a high-speed connection fast enough to support an entire family of active users.

On Monday, the White House announced that 20 broadband providers across the country, including five of the largest cable and phone companies, had agreed to provide “reasonably fast” connections for no more than $30 a month to eligible households. Eight of these serve communities in Southern California: AT&T, Comcast, Cox, Frontier, Mediacom, Spectrum, Starry and Verizon.

As part of the deal, the White House said Spectrum — which serves much of LA County — doubled the bandwidth of its $30-a-month offering from 50 to 100 megabits per second for eligible homes. And Verizon has reduced the price of its 200 Mbps wired plan from $40 to $30 a month.

Many other California ISPs participate in the Affordable Connectivity Program, including some like TruConnect that offer mobile broadband services. The only ones highlighted by the White House were those that provided eligible households with free 100Mbps download connections.

However, eliminating the cost of a broadband connection only removes one of the barriers to wider Internet adoption. Sunne Wright McPeak, head of the California Emerging Technology Fund, said other hurdles are the need for a smart device and the expertise needed to use it.

However, the biggest problem may be that most of those entitled to subsidies do not know about them or are not interested in them. For example, nearly half of Los Angeles County households have incomes low enough to qualify for the federal subsidy, McPeak said, but less than a quarter of that group have signed up. And it might be difficult to reach the rest; For example, you probably won’t see an online advertisement from a broadband provider touting the subsidies.

The White House said Monday it was trying to raise the profile of the program by having federal safety-net agencies educate participants and working with efforts from public stakeholders. The California Legislature is also considering a bill (AB 2751) that would require broadband providers doing business with the state to offer and advertise affordable Internet connections to low-income households.

This is how you can see if you are entitled to the subsidy and which broadband providers offer it.

Am I eligible and how do I apply?

The income limit is 200% of the federal poverty line, which is higher for larger households. For a single person, the threshold is $27,180 per year. For a family of four, it’s $55,500.

But there’s an easier way to verify your eligibility: You qualify for the program if someone in your household is enrolled in at least one of 10 types of safety-net programs, including meal stamps, Medicaid, supplemental security income, Pell grants, and state public housing subsidies. Recipients of select tribal benefit programs also qualify, and tribal land subsidies are higher: $75 per month.

To see if you qualify or to submit an application, you can visit the White House’s Get Internet website, which will guide you through the process. An email application is also available on the Get Internet site; You can also find it on the Affordable Connectivity Program Application Guide page. However, all these resources require internet access and a computer, tablet or smartphone.

If you have questions about applying but do not have internet access, you can call the program’s help center toll-free: (877) 384-2575.

Once your application is approved, the funding goes directly to the participating broadband provider of your choice. To find one near you, check the program listing, which you can search by zip code or city. The list includes more than 90 participating providers near Los Angeles, although many of these are companies that resell services on one of the major wireless networks.

If you already have Internet access, your broadband provider may have their own grant application process. You should start by checking with your ISP.

What services are available?

The subsidies are paid for either a landline connection to your home or a mobile broadband connection to your smartphone. You’re likely to get more bandwidth from a fixed connection — wireless carriers typically apply much lower caps on how much data you can use per month.

The federal program also includes a $100 rebate on low-cost laptops and tablets, but not many broadband providers offer the device subsidies. The one exception among the state’s largest cable television and phone companies is Cox, which serves Santa Barbara and much of Orange and San Diego counties.

There is an additional $10 per month federal grant called Lifeline that businesses in most states can combine with the Affordable Connectivity Program to fund services for eligible low-income households. Meanwhile, California has its own Lifeline subsidy, which adds approximately $15.50 to state Lifeline assistance.

But Matt Johnson, co-CEO of TruConnect, said California is the only state that doesn’t let wireless companies pool money from the Lifeline and Affordable Connectivity Program into one expanded offering for customers. Cable TV and landline phone companies can do that, he said — a point the California Public Utilities Commission disputes — but for wireless customers, it’s one thing or the other. As a result, TruConnect cannot offer eligible homes in California as much bandwidth as other states.

Terrie D. Prosper, a spokeswoman for the CPUC, said in an email that wireless and wired broadband providers currently receive the same subsidy amount, and neither of them combine the Lifeline and Affordable Connectivity Program subsidies. The commission is considering a staffing proposal to change that policy, she said.

How many people still need broadband?

A survey by USC and the California Emerging Technology Fund last year found that 91% of Californians surveyed had access to the Internet. However, the survey also revealed that more than a quarter of low-income Californians surveyed had either no internet service (16%) or only a data plan on their smartphone (10%).

If you don’t have a high-speed connection at home, it’s significantly more difficult to work, study or get medical care remotely, the survey authors said. In other words, it disadvantages low-income households more than they already are.

One benefit of the White House’s recent push, McPeak said, is that it will increase the reach of credible authorities for low-income households. Such efforts can yield significant results, she said; When her group and LA County joined forces late last year to announce broadband subsidies, the county’s enrollment increased 43% in about three weeks.

But many of those families still need trusted sources to persuade them and help them get online, McPeak said. That requires funding for community-based groups that can break down language and cultural barriers to adoption and improve digital literacy, she said.

How long are the subsidies valid?

Unlike its predecessor, the now-defunct Emergency Broadband Fund, the Affordable Connectivity Program has no expiration date. But Congress could decide to end funding at any time, which is one of the reasons the California Emerging Technology Fund is pushing AB 2751, which would keep a version of the program alive if the government ever abandoned it.

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