ORLANDO, FL – It has turned from a luxury into a necessity – high-speed Internet.

Broadband Internet access is used in almost all areas of life: from employment to education and even healthcare.

But what if you can’t afford broadband or Wi-Fi at home?

According to Consumer Reports, the average internet bill is $75 a month.

“For many Americans who are struggling to make ends meet, this is too much. So the government wisely stepped in,” said John Schwantes, senior policy advisor at Consumer Reports.

In 2021, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Federal Communications Commission launched a $14 billion Affordable Connection Program that covers $30 a month for internet in homes and up to $75 a month on qualifying tribal lands.

More than 100 providers in Florida are part of the program and, combined with low-cost internet, make home internet free on some plans. Keep in mind that many Internet service providers offer their own discounted Internet plans for households, some of which cost $30 per month, so with ACP, the service will be free.

“Maybe only a third of eligible families take advantage of this program. We would like to see this number increase, but it is relatively new,” Schwantes said.

There is an income requirement, an income of 200% or below the federal poverty guidelines, but a quick way to find out if you qualify. Click HERE to apply for ACP.

“If you’re eligible for SNAP, WIC, or received a Pell grant if you’re a college student, Medicaid is another way to qualify. If your child is in a school free or reduced lunch program, you are eligible,” Schwantes said.

Another option for free internet at home can be as simple as a trip to your local library.

“Life just happens and someone can lose their job, have health issues and not be able to afford internet, and you need internet to apply for a job. Everything is online, so we’re hearing more and more stories like this,” said Lynette Schimpf, project manager for the Orange County Library System.

OCLS received a grant of nearly half a million dollars through the FCC Emergency Connectivity Fund to purchase 1,000 Wi-Fi access points.

“They’re available at all of our locations, and all you have to do is go to customer service and tell them you want to test a hot spot,” Schimpf said. “You get a small box with a hot spot inside along with a quick guide and a charging cable.”

Hotspots are free and available to all OCLS members regardless of income. All you need is a library card. Hotspots can be checked for a month and renewed up to five times in a row if there is no waiting list.

“The Internet is a lifeline for everybody … everything is online, and we know there are a lot of people who can’t afford Internet access, so that was the driving force behind this program,” Schimpf said.

Another benefit of the FCC’s Affordable Connectivity Program: Eligible families can receive a one-time rebate of up to $100 on devices such as laptops and tablets from participating providers.

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