Internet Access

Congress has passed several rounds of financial assistance and relief in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, including most recently the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, which was signed into law on March 11, 2021.  

Internet Resources for Wisconsinites

The American Rescue Plan of 2021: Expanding Broadband Access for Wisconsin Schools & Libraries 

The Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2021: Expanding Broadband Access for Wisconsinites


Internet Resources for Wisconsinites

  • Emergency Broadband Benefit Program (updated 5/10/2021) 

    This federal benefit program is funded with $3.2 billion through the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021. The program offers temporary discounts of up to $50 per month ($75 on Tribal Land) off of eligible household’s internet access bills. In some cases. low-income households can also get discounts on a laptop, desktop, or tablet computer. The broadband providers will receive the money directly for providing service to an eligible household. Providers may apply to participate starting March 8. Eligible customers can begin enrolling on May 12, 2021. The program ends six months after the public health emergency or when the federal money is depleted. Participation by internet service providers is voluntary. 

    As of May 12, 2021, eligible households will be able to enroll in the program to receive a monthly discount off the cost of broadband service from an approved provider. Eligible households can enroll by visiting https://getemergencybroadband.org. View the list of approved providers in Wisconsin here. Eligible households for the benefit include: 
    • A household’s income must be at or below 135% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines for a household of that size 
    • At least one person in the household must receive benefits from one of the following federal assistance programs: Medicaid, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Federal Public Housing Assistance, or Veterans and Survivors Pension Benefit
    • At least one person in the household is in the free and reduced-price lunch program or the school breakfast program (including the Community Eligibility Provision)
    • At least one person in the household has been laid off or furloughed since February 29, 2020 and the household has an income of less than $99,000 for single filers and $198,000 for joint filers 
    • At least one person in the household has received a Federal Pell Grant in the current award year; or at least one person in the household can participate in their broadband provider’s existing low-income or COVID–19 program. 
    • If a household is located on Tribal lands, it is eligible if at least one person in the household participates in Bureau of Indian Affairs general assistance, Tribally administered Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, Head Start (only those households meeting its income qualifying standard), or the Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations. 

If you have further questions regarding the program or the status of a pending application, contact the Emergency Broadband Support Center: Email at EBBHelp@usac.org or call for assistance at (833) 511-0311.


The American Rescue Plan of 2021: Expanding Broadband Access for Wisconsin Schools & Libraries 

E-Rate Suppport

The bill provides $7.2 in additional funding through the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) universal service schools and libraries program (also known as the E-Rate).

This funding can be distributed to public and private schools and public libraries to purchase Internet access and connected devices (including hotspots, routers, modems and computers) for students, educators and library patrons who lack home Internet access, a connected device, or both. Schools and libraries would be eligible to purchase eligible services and equipment for the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic plus at least one year.

Schools and libraries would be reimbursed through the program for 100% of the costs associated with the eligible services and equipment.

The FCC will likely issue rules regarding this additional funding in May 2021.


The Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2021: Expanding Broadband Access for Wisconsinites

Emergency Broadband Assistance for Workers and Families

A new $3.2 billion program to provide a monthly broadband benefit to low-income households during the pandemic was secured in the bipartisan government funding legislation. This new program was based off of the Senator Baldwin-supported Emergency Broadband Connections Act, which will now provide a $50/month benefit to workers who have been laid off or furloughed during the pandemic, along with a range of other assistance to ensure families can access critical online services. 

ACCESS Broadband Act

Among the bipartisan reforms included in the final government funding bill was the ACCESS BROADBAND Act, legislation cosponsored by Senator Baldwin to foster the development and growth of broadband resources for businesses as well as underserved urban and rural communities in Wisconsin, and throughout the country. 

This reform will require the U.S. Department of Commerce to establish the Office of Internet Connectivity and Growth within the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA). This will help streamline processes for local businesses to access federal broadband resources through a simplified application process and better oversight of federal broadband support programs.

Broadband Interagency Coordination Act

The year-end, bipartisan government funding bill includes provisions from the bipartisan Broadband Interagency Coordination Act that was cosponsored by Senator Baldwin to direct the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the NTIA, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to better coordinate the distribution of federal funds for broadband deployment. This will ensure investments in broadband deployment are targeted to unserved and underserved areas.

Major Broadband Deployment Investments

In her role on the Appropriations Committee, Senator Baldwin will continue fighting for federal funding to improve internet access for Wisconsinites, regardless of their zip code. Below is a breakdown of additional federal broadband investments that were secured in the year-end, bipartisan government funding legislation.

  • $1.9 Billion to Fund the FCC’s Rip-and-Replace Communications Security Program: The broadband package fully funds the FCC’s reimbursement program to remove unsecure communications equipment from the nation’s communications networks. It also expands eligibility for the rip-and-replace reimbursement program to communications providers with 10 million subscribers or less, but still prioritizes reimbursement for providers with 2 million subscribers or less.
  • $65 Million for Better Broadband Maps: The package fully funds the FCC’s development of new, more accurate broadband availability maps as directed by Congress in Senator Baldwin’s Broadband DATA Act. These maps will help the federal government better target support for broadband deployment.
  • $285 Million for Connecting Minority Communities: The package establishes an Office of Minority Broadband Initiatives at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) and includes $285 million to support Historically black colleges and universities, Tribal colleges and universities, and minority-serving education institutions, including when they partner with minority-owned businesses, to expand broadband capacity and availability at schools and in communities, including by assisting students afford broadband service. 
  • $250 Million for Additional FCC Support for Telehealth: The package provides an additional $250 million to the FCC for its COVID-19 Telehealth Program, which was authorized under the CARES Act, to boost telehealth resources for those requiring online health care services.
  • $1 Billion for a Dedicated Tribal Broadband Connectivity Grant Program: The bill establishes a $1 billion grant program at NTIA to support broadband connectivity on tribal lands throughout the country. The grants will be directed to tribal governments to be used not only for broadband deployment on tribal lands, but also telehealth, distance learning, broadband affordability, and digital inclusion. 
  • $300 Million to Promote Broadband Expansion to Unserved Americans: The bill establishes a $300 million broadband deployment grant program at NTIA to support broadband infrastructure deployment to areas lacking broadband, especially rural areas. The grants would be issued to qualifying partnerships between state and local governments and fixed broadband providers. Priority for grants would be given to networks that would reach the most unserved consumers.

Additional Information and Resources

For general information and resources about coronavirus for Wisconsinites, please click here.


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