How to Get Free Broadband Internet in Southern California

The White House announced Monday that low-income Americans now have more options for free high-speed Internet access, including at least eight providers that serve Southern California.

federal government launched the Affordable Connectivity program at the end of last year provide subsidies of $30 per month for households with incomes no more than twice the federal poverty level. But that subsidy was less than what many ISPs charge for a high-speed connection fast enough to support a whole family of active users.

The White House said Monday that 20 broadband providers across the country, including the top five cable TV and phone companies, have agreed to provide “reasonably fast” connections for no more than $30 a month to eligible homes. Eight of them serve communities in Southern California: AT&T, Comcast, Cox, Frontier, Mediacom, Spectrum, Starry and Verizon.

The White House said that as part of the deal, Spectrum, which serves most of Los Angeles County, doubled the bandwidth of its $30-a-month offering from 50 to 100 megabits per second for eligible households. And Verizon has slashed the price of its 200Mbps wired offering from $40 to $30 a month.

Many other California ISPs participate in the Affordable Connectivity program, including some such as TruConnect that provide mobile broadband services. The only ones flagged by the White House were those that provided free 100Mbps connectivity to eligible households.

However, removing the cost of broadband connectivity removes only one of the barriers to broader Internet adoption. Sunn Wright McPeak, head of the California Emerging Technology Foundation, said other hurdles include the need for a smart device and the know-how needed to use it.

The biggest problem, however, may be that most people who qualify for subsidies are not aware of or interested in them. For example, nearly half of the households in Los Angeles County are low enough to qualify for a federal subsidy, McPeak said, but less than a quarter of that group signed up. And it can be hard to get to the rest; for example, they are unlikely to see a broadband provider’s online ad promoting subsidies.

On Monday, the White House said it was trying to raise the profile of the program by getting federal social security agencies to tell participants about it and by working with community groups. The California Legislature is also considering a bill (AB 2751), which would require broadband providers doing business with the government to offer and advertise affordable internet connectivity for low-income households.

Here’s how to determine if you qualify for subsidies and which broadband providers offer them.

Am I eligible and how do I apply?

The income cutoff is 200% of federal poverty line, which is higher for large households. For a single person, the threshold is $27,180 per year. For a family of four, that’s $55,500.

But there’s an easier way to check your eligibility: You’re eligible if anyone in your household is in at least one of 10 types of social security programs, including food stamps, Medicaid, Supplemental Security Income, grants. Pell and federal government programs. housing subsidies. Recipients of separate tribal allowance programs are also eligible, and tribal land subsidies are higher: $75 per month.

To find out if you are eligible or to apply, you can visit “Get Internet“A web page to guide you through the entire process. BUT mailing application also available on the Get Internet site; it can also be found in the available connection program. how to apply page. However, all of these resources require Internet access and a computer, tablet or smartphone.

If you have questions about how to apply but do not have Internet access, you can call the Program Help Center toll-free at (877) 384-2575.

Once your application is approved, the subsidies will go directly to your chosen broadband provider. To find it in your area, check list of programs, which can be searched by zip code or city. The list includes more than 90 participating providers near Los Angeles, although many of them are companies that resell services on one of the major wireless networks.

If you already have Internet access, your broadband provider may have their own subsidy application process. You should start by checking your Internet Service Provider.

What services are available?

The subsidies will either pay for a fixed line to your home or a mobile broadband connection to your smartphone. You’ll probably get more bandwidth from a fixed connection – wireless providers usually set much lower limits on how much data you can use per month.

The federal program also includes a $100 rebate on low-cost laptops and tablets, but not many broadband providers offer device subsidies. The only exception among the state’s largest cable and telephone companies is Cox, which serves Santa Barbara and most of Orange and San Diego counties.

There is another additional $10 per month federal grant called Lifeline that businesses in most states can combine with the Affordable Connectivity Program to fund services for eligible low income households. Meanwhile, California has its own Lifeline subsidy that adds about $15.50 to Lifeline’s federal assistance.

But Matt Johnson, one of TruConnect’s chief executives, said California is the only state that will not allow wireless companies to combine Lifeline and Affordable Connectivity Program money into one enhanced customer offering. Cable TV and wireline phone companies can do this, he says, which is disputed by the California Public Utilities Commission, but for wireless users, it’s either one or the other. As a result, TruConnect cannot offer the same bandwidth to eligible households in California as it does in other states, he said.

Terri D. Prosper, spokeswoman for the CPUC, said in an email that wireless and wireline broadband providers currently receive the same amount of subsidy, and neither combines Lifeline and Affordable Connectivity Program subsidies. The commission is considering a staff proposal to change that policy, she said.

How many people still need broadband?

A survey conducted last year by USC and the California Emerging Technology Fund found that 91% of Californians surveyed have Internet access. But the poll also showed that more than a quarter of low-income Californians surveyed either had no internet service (16%) or only had a data plan on their smartphone (10%).

The lack of high-speed connectivity at home makes it much more difficult to telecommute, study, or receive medical care, the survey authors said. In other words, it puts low-income households at a greater disadvantage than they are now.

One benefit of the White House’s latest move, McPeak said, is that it will increase coverage of low-income households by credible authorities. According to her, such efforts can yield significant results; when her group and Los Angeles County teamed up late last year to spread the word about broadband subsidies, enrollment in the county increased. 43% in about three weeks.

But many of these families still need reliable sources to convince and help them get online, McPeak said. This requires funding for community groups that can overcome language and cultural barriers to acceptance and digital literacy, she said.

How long will the subsidies last?

Unlike its predecessor, the now defunct Emergency broadband fund, The Accessible Connection Program does not expire. But Congress can stop funding at any time, which is one of the reasons the California Emerging Technology Foundation is pushing AB 2751, which will keep a version of the program if the feds ever pull it out.