CLEVELAND — The digital divide in Ohio has been an issue for years. Now, it's escalating.
“We believe this is an economic issue,” said Angie Cooper, Chief Program Officer at Heartland Forward.
Right now, more than 1.4 million Ohioans don’t have internet service and 29% of Ohio K-12 students don't have adequate access, which may be causing a long-term domino effect across communities.
“Not having affordable high-speed Internet access is impactful to not just students, it's impactful to our workforce. It's impactful to our health care. We saw that even while people were signing up for vaccinations. If you didn't have access to get online these things became very, very challenging,” Cooper explained.
But state leaders are taking a step towards change by partnering with the FF and the nonprofit Heartland Forward. Together they're launching a $3.2 billion Emergency Broadband Benefit program, which is a Federal Communications Commission (FCC) program. If you qualify, can get up to $50 off broadband service in your area and up to $100 to help buy a computer or tablet to allow access at home.
However, the program will not be sticking around for long. The benefits are set to expire when funds run out or six months after the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services declares an end to the pandemic.
“Once funds run out, the emergency broadband benefit program will not be available. Those dollars will not be available to households,” Cooper said. “That's why it's so important. This was passed during COVID and it's so important for people to be aware that there's money out there for them to receive.”
So far 2.3 million households have signed up nationwide. Yet, we're told the numbers in Ohio are missing the mark.
“The numbers in Ohio still need to be increased,” said Cooper.
Cooper says the program is simply a temporary fix giving hope as the state looks for something permanent.
“Heartland Forward will be working over the months and years with state leaders and with the federal government to ensure that there are permanent solutions put in place.”
Do I qualify?
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
How do I apply?
Those eligible can enroll in the program in several different ways.
If you do not have access to the internet, you 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 you shave access to the internet, they can apply online by clicking here.
For more information about EBB, click here.
If you need help with the application process you can also call the RemotEDx Connectivity Champions at (844) K12-OHIO or click here.