The acting chairman of the Federal Communications Commission announced Monday a proposal to use $ 3.2 billion in emergency funds to heavily subsidize broadband service for millions of households. This is an attempt to narrow the digital divide that penalized low-income families during the pandemic.

Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel announced that if she proposed, qualified households would receive $ 50 a month off high-speed Internet services. The discount would be $ 75 for households in tribal areas. Ms. Rosenworcel sent the proposal to the other three commissioners to vote, but did not indicate when that vote would take place for the program known as the Emergency Broadband Benefit.

Congress allocated the money last December under a Covid-19 relief bill. The money will be available to households 135 percent or more above the poverty line who qualify for free and discounted school lunches or who have seen significant income losses since February 29, 2020.

At least 14.5 million households do not have access to high-speed internet. For many families, especially in urban and suburban areas, the high cost of broadband has prevented them from using the service. The consequences of the digital divide during the pandemic were severe. Children were cut off from online learning and adults could not work from home or find important health information.

“Nobody should have to decide whether to pay their internet bills or put food on the table,” Ms. Rosenworcel said in a statement. “With the Emergency Broadband Benefit we have a new way for households to access virtual learning, for patients to connect with telemedicine providers, and for those struggling with this pandemic to learn new online skills and get their next job to search.”

The digital divide has been one of the federal government’s most persistent problems.
Although Internet service providers receive over $ 8 billion in subsidies each year to bring broadband to every American home, adoption and access rates have improved over time. Broadband cards, for example, notoriously count over how many households have access to the service. If an internet service provider like Verizon or Comcast only hits one house in a census block, the entire block will be shown connected on federal maps – even if in reality not all houses get the broadband option.

Last week, Ms. Rosenworcel announced a task force to investigate the agency’s tracking of broadband access data.