North Carolina is facing serious internet access problems, according to a Microsoft report published by The Verge. In a fifth of the state’s counties, only fewer than 15 percent of residents can access internet speeds over 25 Mbps, which the Federal Communications Commission [FCC] defines as the minimum broadband speed requirement. For context, Zoom’s system requirements recommend a 1.8 Mbps download speed for minimum high-definition group video calls.

With more North Carolinians working, learning, and socializing from home, accessing broadband internet speeds has become crucial for life during the COVID-19 pandemic. A household without broadband internet access and with multiple members attempting to use Zoom for work and school, for example, would struggle to meet this internet demand. 

The American Community Survey reports that Northampton, Hyde, and Graham counties have the lowest access to broadband internet, sitting at 51.8, 56.4, and 56.7 percent respectively. These counties are also reported to be some of the poorest in North Carolina. Better-off counties, such as Wake, have faster broadband access (Wake’s ranks at 91 percent). 

This data can often be inaccurate, however, as federal agencies often rely on internet service providers to describe areas and create surveys. The Verge’s Microsoft report states Northampton, Hyde, and Graham counties’ broadband internet access is at 8, 4, and 8 percent respectively, far lower than the percentages reported by the American Community Survey.

These counties, and their respective residents without broadband internet access, are now eligible to receive aid from the federal government. On May 12, the FCC launched the Emergency Broadband Benefit program in order to help families and households struggling to access reliable internet during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The program will provide up to a $50 monthly discount on broadband internet for eligible households, increased up to a $75 monthly discount for households on Indigenous lands. The Emergency Broadband Benefit will also provide a one-time discount up to $100 for a laptop, desktop or tablet purchase if eligible residents contribute between $10-$50 towards the purchase of the electronic. 

These discounts are not permanent, according to the Federal Communications Commission. The Emergency Broadband Benefit program is set to end either six months after the pandemic is declared over by the Department of Health and Human Services or once program funds run out. Participants will receive a notice from their internet provider about the last full benefit cycle the program will provide.

To apply for the Emergency Broadband Benefit program, one household member must meet one of the following criteria:

– Fall at or below 135 percent of the Federal Poverty Guideline, or qualify for assistance programs such as SNAP, Medicaid or Lifeline.

– Be approved to receive benefits from the free and reduced-price school lunch program or the school breakfast program

– Received a Federal Pell Grant during the current award year

– Experienced a substantial loss of income since February 29, 2020 due to job loss or furlough, and the household income is below $99,000 for single filers and $198,000 for joint filers; or

– Meet eligibility criteria for a participating provider’s existing COVID-19 or low-income program

– North Carolinians looking to apply for the Emergency Broadband Benefit program have a variety of sources available to make the application process easier, including guidance from the North Carolina Department of Information Technology’s Broadband Infrastructure Office and the FCC’s website. Applicants can also check a list of providers currently participating in the program as well. 

To apply for the Emergency Broadband Benefit program, visit the program’s main website

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