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New Program to Help Eligible Missourians Temporarily Pay For Internet

David Kovaluk / St. Louis Public Radio
The Emergency Broadband Benefit program will give eligible Missourians up to $50 per month toward their bill.

Access to the internet has become a key component of everyday life, but for some Missourians it’s out of reach. Now a new temporary program will make it easier for low-income residents to stay connected.

The Emergency Broadband Benefit program will save eligible Missourians up to $50 per month toward their bill. Residents who are on Medicaid, receive SNAP benefits or have children who qualify for free or reduced-price school lunches last year are eligible for the program.

Tim Arbeiter, director of broadband development with the Missouri Department of Economic Development, said the pandemic moved all aspects of life online. To stay connected and informed, he said, the internet is essential.

“In order to have that engagement you need the internet,” Arbeiter said. “And when you can’t afford home internet service because of the challenges you face in your family or in your support unit, it’s very difficult to stay connected or even get connected.”

The $3.2 billion program was announced by the Federal Communications Commission on May 12.

Some participating internet service providers like Metro by T-Mobile and T-Mobile USA are also offering up to $100 in discounts to eligible households to purchase a computer, laptop or tablet if they contribute $10 to $50 for the device. Arbeiter said access to a device is crucial.

“If you don’t have the device at home, you can’t hop onto the internet,” he said, "and if you don’t have the internet, you can’t hop on the World Wide Web.”

The temporary program does not have an official stop date, Arbeiter said, but there is a chance it could continue six months after the pandemic has officially ended if funds are still available.

Eligible residents can apply for the program directly through one of the 58 participating service providers in Missouri. Mail-in and online applications are also available via the Universal Service Administrative Co.

Follow Marissanne on Twitter: @Marissanne2011

Marissanne is the afternoon newscaster at St. Louis Public Radio.