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Program Aims To Provide Internet Discount To Arkansans

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A new program aims to provide low-income Arkansans with financial support for broadband internet access.

State and local officials, including Gov. Asa Hutchinson and Little Rock Mayor Frank Scott Jr., are partnering on a public awareness campaign for the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program from the Federal Communications Commission.

Angie Cooper is chief program officer for Heartland Forward, a Bentonville-based nonprofit working to raise awareness of the program.

“We know one of the biggest barriers to internet access for many in the heartland and across the country is the cost. So that’s why this Emergency Broadband Benefit program is so important for households that are eligible here in Arkansas,” Cooper said.

The program provides as much as a $50 monthly discount on internet bills, and provides a credit of $100 to go toward purchasing a new laptop. Households with an income at or below 135% of the federal poverty level are eligible, as are students and people who’ve experienced a significant income loss due to the pandemic.

Cooper says only a small amount of families in the state have already signed up for the program.

“Nationally, about 2.3 million people have signed up to date. In Arkansas specifically around 33,000 households that are eligible have signed up, and there’s more eligible households in Arkansas,” Cooper said.

Studies show 1 million Arkansans currently lack access to high-speed internet, and only about half of K-12 students in the state have adequate broadband access.

According to the FCC, the program will last until the $3.2 billion in funding allocated by Congress runs out, or six months after the end of the pandemic public health emergency. Cooper says a permanent solution to the lack of internet access is still needed once this program ends.

“The acting chairwoman of the FCC said it perfectly, this is all hands on deck. We’ve all got to work together to ensure that people have access and are able to do what’s needed in the digital age that we live in today.”

Applicants can sign up through a participating broadband provider or by calling (833) 511-0311.

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