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These are featured stories of how the Upper Delta and Mid-South is combating the Coronavirus as well as resources to help those impacted by the pandemic.

Arkansas promotes federal broadband program for low-income households

Heartland Forward

The following is a press release from Heartland Forward:

Today, Heartland Forward, Governor Asa Hutchinson, Governor Hutchinson’s Broadband Office, the Arkansas Department of Human Services, the Arkansas Department of Education, Arkansas State Library, University of Arkansas Medical School Institute for Digital Health & Innovation, the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation and Little Rock Mayor Frank Scott Jr., unveiled a public awareness partnership to help connect Arkansans to affordable internet through the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) Emergency Broadband Benefit (EBB) program. The program utilizes federal COVID-19 relief funding to provide eligible households discounts of up to $50 a month on home internet service, making the service more affordable and accessible for qualifying low-income families. The program also offers a $100 discount towards the purchase of a laptop, computer or tablet from a participating provider.

Currently, more than 1 million Arkansans don’t have internet service, and just 46 percent of Arkansas K-12 students have access. The COVID-19 pandemic exposed how widespread and detrimental inequities in internet access are, as those without reliable internet service struggled to participate in school, gain access to health care and do their jobs remotely. A new study out last week from Pew Research Center revealed approximately one-third of lower-income broadband users nationwide have struggled to pay for their service during the pandemic.

The EBB program is intended to reduce these disparities by ensuring households can afford to get online. The $3.2 billion federal program is temporary and will conclude when funds run out or six months after the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services declares an end to the pandemic.

To ensure qualifying Arkansans know about the program, Heartland Forward is launching a public awareness campaign including paid media and coordinated community outreach through state agencies and local organizations.

“The COVID-19 pandemic exposed how many Arkansans still lack internet access, and how critical it is to invest in closing the digital divide in our state,” said Governor Asa Hutchinson. “Internet access is a crucial component to the future of our state and its economy, and I’m grateful to Heartland Forward for partnering with us to ensure eligible Arkansans know this opportunity for affordable, accessible internet service exists.”

“While the federal government is making a major investment to close the internet affordability gap in the wake of the pandemic, it will take a robust and coordinated effort to reach eligible families, so they know about this opportunity to get connected,” said Angie Cooper, chief program officer for Heartland Forward. “We are eager to contribute to the success of the Emergency Broadband Benefit in Arkansas in the near-term and help make the case for a long-term affordability solution in our country.”

“I’m proud that the FCC is partnering with over 13,000 individuals and organizations to raise awareness about the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program. Efforts like this awareness campaign from the State of Arkansas and Heartland Forward are critical to the success of this program and ensuring eligible residents know about this opportunity to get connected,” said FCC Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel. “Too many families in Arkansas and around the country have struggled to keep up without an internet connection. Now help is available through the Emergency Broadband Benefit.”

A household is eligible for the program if one member of the household meets at least one of the following criteria:

  • has an income that is at or below 135 percent of the Federal Poverty Guidelines or participates in certain assistance programs, such as SNAP, Medicaid or the FCC’s Lifeline program;
  • approved to receive benefits under the free and reduced-price school lunch or breakfast program;
  • received a Federal Pell Grant during the current award year;
  • experienced a substantial loss of income through job loss or furlough since Feb. 29, 2020; or
  • meets the eligibility criteria for a participating provider’s existing low-income or COVID-19 program.

Those eligible can enroll in the program in several different ways. If they do not have access to the internet, they can sign up through a participating broadband provider or by calling (833) 511-0311 between 9 a.m. and 9 p.m. any day of the week to request a mail-in application and more information about the program. If they do have access to the internet, they can apply online at getemergencybroadband.org. Additional information about the EBB is also available at www.fcc.gov/broadbandbenefit

“Our goal is to expand internet access to as many unserved and underserved Arkansans across our state, and the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program is an important step toward making internet more affordable for our families. We’re thrilled to be partnering with Heartland Forward to ensure eligible families know about this program, and hope to see many Arkansans enroll in the days and weeks to come,” said the State’s Executive Broadband Manager Steven Porch.

Heartland Forward is promoting EBB Program awareness in Arkansas as part of its three-year Connecting the Heartland initiative focused on ensuring families and businesses across America’s heartland have access to affordable, reliable high-speed internet service. Through its collaboration with the Broadband Office and partner agencies, information will be available to eligible households at schools, libraries, healthcare facilities and employment service centers throughout the state. In addition, awareness materials will be shared with community organizations that serve individuals and families who qualify for the program.

“COVID shined a spotlight on the need for a more robust broadband infrastructure in the state,” Arkansas Department of Education Secretary Johnny Key said. “This was evident in students’ struggles to gain remote access to learning during the pandemic. While the state and local school districts have made huge strides in improving the network and access to devices this school year, more can and should be done to improve students’ abilities to access lessons and learning from home. The Emergency Broadband Benefit Program is another tool available to families to help them gain that much-needed access, and we are happy to join our other state and federal partners to help spread the word about this beneficial program.”

“We know that many of the clients we’re serving may be struggling to pay for internet so we are grateful this program offers help to the people we serve,” said Department for Human Services Secretary Cindy Gillespie.

"The Emergency Broadband Benefit program is an important step towards ensuring that all Arkansans have access to high speed internet." said Rev. Cory Anderson, Chief Innovation Officer at the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation. "By continuing to invest in both family access and new infrastructure, Arkansas has the opportunity to supercharge our state's economy by making broadband as easy to get and as affordable as public water, electricity and gas."

About Heartland Forward:

Heartland Forward is a nonpartisan, 501c3 organization whose mission is to improve economic performance in the center of the United States by advocating for fact-based solutions to foster job creation, knowledge-based and inclusive growth and improved health outcomes. Heartland Forward conducts independent, data-driven research and programs to facilitate action-oriented discussion and impactful policy recommendations. To learn more, visit https://heartlandforward.org/.