At least one-third of Cowlitz County residents eligible for free internet |  Local

At least one-third of Cowlitz County residents eligible for free internet | Local

At least one-third of Cowlitz County residents are eligible for free or discounted high-speed internet through a new federal program.

In May, President Joe Biden announced 20 internet companies committed to provide a high-speed internet plan for no more than $30 a month to low-income households. Those residents can use a discount from the federal Affordable Connectivity Program to fully cover the cost of the plan.

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The program was created as part of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law passed last year, replacing the Emergency Broadband Benefit. The temporary program provided discounts of up to $50 for eligible households from May to December 2021.

Through the Affordable Connectivity Program, eligible households can receive up to $30 per month toward internet service and up to $75 on qualifying Tribal lands. Each household can also get a one-time discount of up to $100 to purchase a laptop, desktop computer or tablet from participating providers, with a copay.

Who is eligible?

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Residents with income at or below 200% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines are eligible. That includes about 31.3% of Cowlitz County residents, according to Census Bureau data.

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Under those guidelines, a four-person household with an annual income of $55,500 or less would qualify. A list of income thresholds by household size is available at www.affordableconnectivity.gov/do-i-qualify.

Those who participate in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, are also eligible. In Cowlitz County, that’s an estimated 20% of households, according to the Census Bureau. About 3,490, or 41%, of county households with children under 18 participate in SNAP.

Families with students enrolled in the free and reduced price school meal program also qualify. As of October 2021, 62% of Longview School District students, 61% in Kelso, 53% in Castle Rock, 40% in Woodland, 35% in Toutle Lake and 33% in Kalama participated in the program, according to the most recent Child Nutrition Services Program report on the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction’s website.

Households are also eligible if at least one member participates in or has received:

  • Medicaid,
  • Women, Infants and Children Nutrition Program (WIC),
  • Supplemental Security Income,
  • federal public housing assistance,
  • veterans pension or survivors benefit,
  • a federal Pell Grant in the current award year,
  • certain Tribal assistance programs.

Those who receive a Lifeline benefit are also eligible. Lifeline is a separate federal program that began providing discounts on phone services to low income residents in 1985. It expanded to include internet in 2016.

Eligible households can combine the Lifeline and Affordable Connectivity Program benefits to apply to one service or use them separately, according to the White House website.

Residents who receive the discount from the Affordable Connectivity Program can use it with any participating broadband provider, including Comcast (Xfinity), Century Link, Kalama Telephone Company, Hughes Network Systems, Wave Broadband and others, listed at www.affordableconnectivity.gov.

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