The EBB is a government program designed to help families in need acquire and maintain Internet access that has proved so crucial during the COVID-19 pandemic. Participation among Internet service providers is voluntary, and AT&T and Walmart have recently announced joining the cause.
Emergency Broadband Benefit
The EBB is an FCC program aimed at subsidizing Internet access during the pandemic and recovery period. Internet access has proved invaluable at a time when so many adults require it to continue working and so many young people require it to continue attending school. Funds for the EBB were provided by the CARES Act, a $2.2 trillion coronavirus-focused economic stimulus package. The EBB provides a $50 benefit to each eligible household through participating broadband service providers.
Walmart and AT&T Team Up
In order to ensure that funds are used for the purpose for which they have been allocated, the government requires that consumers claim the benefit through a participating service provider. AT&T announced a partnership with Walmart that would allow it to offer the EBB through both AT&T Prepaid and Cricket Wireless, which is also a prepaid service. Since the nature of prepaid wireless is not a perfect fit with the concept of the EBB, AT&T and Cricket have introduced EBB-specific plans. Some of these plans are even free of charge to the consumer, and no plan costs more than $10 per month.
The EBB is aimed at low-income families. Core eligibility requires that you be at or below 135 percent of the applicable poverty guideline as set forth by the federal government or that you participate in Lifeline, Medicaid or SNAP. Families are also eligible if they receive free or reduced-price benefits for school lunches. Those awarded a Federal Pell Grant this year are also eligible, and there have been special provisions made for those who have suffered a substantial loss of income due to the pandemic.
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Available EBB-Subsidized Plans
These plans from AT&T and Walmart not only include high-speed internet but unlimited talk and text. The aforementioned free plan is available via AT&T Prepaid and provides 15 GB of data. Through either Cricket Wireless or AT&T Prepaid, eligible customers can pay just $5 per month for 100 GB. Unlimited data is also available through both services for $10 per month, and both companies offer unlimited plans with additional perks that are available to those who set up an automatic payment.
EBB Is a Finite Program
It is worth noting that the EBB is not a permanent program. Once the federal government declares that the COVID-19 health crisis has come to an end, the benefit will flow for another six months. At that point, any remaining funds will be reallocated. It is also notable that the EBB cannot be funded beyond its initial scope. In other words, once the available funds are used, the program will come to an end regardless of whether or not the COVID-19 health crisis is still ongoing.
Some ISPs Exploiting EBB
The EBB gives a great deal of control to the ISPs. On one hand, this makes facilitating the program far more practical, but on the other hand, it means putting a social safety net into the hands of organizations that prioritize growth above all else. Verizon, for instance, recently generated a great deal of bad press by exploiting the EBB to upsell customers into plans that would cost them more down the road. Fortunately, AT&T has not been accused of this when it comes to either AT&T Prepaid or Cricket Wireless.