TOLEDO, Ohio — National Digital Inclusion Week is next week, aiming to promote digital equity to all across the country, no matter where you live.
In support of this, Toledo-area elected officials and community leaders are promoting the Emergency Broadband Benefit, a federal program to get families in Lucas County connected to the internet.
Internet access has increasingly become a necessity in households, but thousands in our area don't have it or can't afford it.
"It's a big number, this is a big number and we have to reach every household," said U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur, D-Ohio.
State and city leaders want people to know assistance is available to them.
At least 1/3 of the people in our community don't have access to the internet and recent trends show that number is growing since the pandemic hit.
Thousands of people are eligible for federal assistance to help pay for internet access through the Emergency Broadband Benefit program.
"The reality is, in many cases throughout Toledo, there is access to broadband throughout households but not all residents can afford the cost of connection," said Toledo City Council member Nick Komives.
Historically, urban areas and communities of color are more likely not to have broadband access. The COVID-19 pandemic furthered the divide, especially in schools.
"We don't know what's going to happen with the pandemic, so it gives a way of virtually communicating between your home and the teacher and so many children don't have the ability to do that from home," Kaptur said.
"COVID really heightened the responsibility to make sure that we had strengthened our ability to make for everyone to be able to get the internet," said Lucas County Commissioner Tina Skeldon Wozniak.
The Emergency Broadband Benefit is a federal program designed to make internet access more affordable for Lucas County residents having difficulty making monthly internet service provider payments.
The benefit would provide a discount of up to $50 per month towards broadband services for eligible households and up to $75 per month for households on qualifying lands. Benefits last one year.
Those who qualify also receive a one-time $100 gift card to be used toward purchasing internet-enabled devices.
Those who meet one or more of the below criteria are eligible for the program:
- An income that is at or below 135% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines or participates in certain assistance programs, such as SNAP, Medicaid, or Lifeline
- Approved to receive benefits under the free and reduced-price school lunch program or the school breakfast program, including through the USDA Community Eligibility Provision, in the 2019-2020, 2020-2021, or 2021-2022 school year.
- Received a Federal Pell Grant during the current award year.
- Experienced a substantial loss of income due to job loss or furlough since February 29, 2020 and the household had a total income in 2020 at or below $99,000 for single filers and $198,000 for joint filers
- Meets the eligibility criteria for a participating provider's existing low-income or COVID-19 program.
Anyone interested is asked to visit any of the Toledo Libraries or to call Congresswoman Kaptur's office at (419)-259-7500.
Officials are also working on hitting the streets and sending information through the mail to bring awareness.