New FCC program to help low-income households with internet services

Noel Lyn Smith
Farmington Daily Times

GALLUP — The Federal Communications Commission has established a new program to help low-income families pay for internet service during the coronavirus pandemic – a move lauded by Navajo Nation leaders because it will strengthen internet access for tribal members.

Under the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program, eligible households can receive up to $50 a month to help pay for broadband internet service. The assistance is up to $75 a month for households on tribal lands.

It also will provide a one-time discount of up to $100 on a computer or tablet for eligible households.

Navajo Nation leaders and Navajo Tribal Utility Authority officials recognized on the completion of a new NTUA Choice Wireless tower on Feb. 18 in Beclabito.

According to the FCC, the program is open to households that participate in an existing low-income or pandemic relief program offered by an internet provider.

It is also open to consumers under the Lifeline program, those on Medicaid or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits, households with children receiving free or reduced school meals, Pell Grant recipients and those who have lost employment or had a reduction in income in the last year.

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"This is a program that will help those at risk of digital disconnection," acting FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said in a statement. "It will help those sitting in cars in parking lots just to catch a Wi-Fi signal to go online for work. It will help those lingering outside the library with a laptop just to get a wireless signal for remote learning. It will help those who worry about choosing between paying a broadband bill and paying rent or buying groceries. In short, this program can make a meaningful difference in the lives of people across the country,"

The Navajo Tribal Utility Authority dedicated on Feb. 18 a new 180-foot tower to provide broadband and cellular services to Beclabito.

The $3.2 billion provided for the program comes from the Consolidated Appropriations Act, which was passed by Congress on Dec. 21, 2020 and signed into law six days later by former President Donald Trump.

"The subsidies will be very beneficial for Navajo families who are eligible," Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez said in a press release from his office.

"The COVID-19 pandemic has magnified the need for broadband connectivity to meet the needs of our students, teachers, first responders, elders and others," Nez said then added that Vice President Myron Lizer advocated for establishing the program during a roundtable discussion with the FCC in early February.

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Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez.

Such programs are needed as the tribe continues to work on meeting the demands of internet service at this time, the press release explained.

The Navajo Tribal Utility Authority has used funding from the federal coronavirus relief bill to complete broadband installations and upgrades to existing equipment.

NTUA also built four new towers for broadband and cellular services. Last month, the tribal enterprise dedicated a new tower in Beclabito.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 or by email at nsmith@daily-times.com.

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