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About 1% Of Idaho Households Request Federal Broadband Cash In Program's First Weeks

Roughly 1% of households in Idaho have signed up for the Biden Administration's new Emergency Broadband Benefit program.

In the program’s first three weeks, the Federal Communications Commission (administered by the Universal Service Administration Co.) says 2.3 million people across the country have signed up for a $50 monthly subsidy to help pay for broadband internet expenses. Residents on tribal lands can receive a $75 subsidy through the program.

Any household already receiving state assistance — think Medicaid or SNAP — automatically qualifies, as do households that suffered significant income loss last year.

So far in Idaho, 6,850 households have signed up. According to Census Bureau data, that’s about 1% of all households in Idaho — but how many households might be eligible is unknown.

Signups in most states so far are between 1-2% of all households. Louisiana has the highest percentage of participating households at 5%. In the Mountain West, Nevada has more than 3% of its households already signed up. In Wyoming, only 651 households have signed up; third-fewest of any U.S. state behind North Dakota and Alaska.

Participating in the program requires a federal application process and typically a separate application through an internet service provider. The government pays the providers — like CenturyLink, Sparklight or most wireless phone companies — directly.

Some providers have come under fire for only making their most expensive plans eligible for federal aid and upselling customers. If subscribers switch from lower-cost plans to get the subsidy, they could potentially lock themselves into paying more once the federal program ends.

The FCC says the program will last until its $3.1 billion of funding is exhausted, or U.S. health officials declare the pandemic over, whichever comes first.

In southern Idaho, Sparklight (formerly CableOne) does allow the federal benefit to cover costs in some of its lowest-cost plans. CenturyLink does not have a public list of qualifying plans and did not respond to a request for more information.

You can learn more about the program at fcc.gov, or check with your internet service provider.

Troy Oppie is a reporter and local host of 'All Things Considered' for Boise State Public Radio News.

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