Making Affordable High-Speed Internet Accessible to All Americans
Hawai‘i Herald Columnist
From Zoom or Facebook video calls with family to online visits to your doctor, the internet has been a lifeline for küpuna during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The internet is like my connection to the outside,” said Darlene Yamashita, an AARP Hawai‘i volunteer, who discovered how valuable the internet is during the pandemic. Yamashita uses her new laptop and phone for doctors’ appointments, keeping in touch with family and friends through Facetime and text messages, and learned to use Zoom to go to virtual AARP workshops and meetings.
“We had problems with the internet two times (during the last year) and it was almost like a death sentence until it came back on,” Yamashita said. “We were stuck.”
Unfortunately, too many küpuna are not using high-speed internet in Hawai‘i.
That’s why AARP fought for the Emergency Broadband Benefit, a temporary $3.2 billion Federal Communications Commission program to help Americans access affordable, high-speed internet during the COVID-19 pandemic. The EBB program launched on May 12 in Hawai‘i and gives eligible families up to $50 a month to pay for broadband service. Hawaiian Home Lands households can apply for an enhanced benefit of up to $75 a month.
In addition, the benefit will pay up to $100 toward the purchase of a laptop, desktop computer or tablet from participating Hawai‘i internet service providers if the household contributes at least $10 toward the purchase price.
The Emergency Broadband Benefit is not just for küpuna of course. Families with school-age kids and anyone who needs connectivity and has at least one household member who is eligible can qualify. The governor’s office estimates that about 200,000 Hawai‘i households are eligible for the benefit, which is aimed at residents who have experienced financial setbacks during the pandemic or are struggling to get by.
If you or someone you know qualifies, they can contact a participating internet service provider, apply online at GetEmergencyBroadband.org or call (833) 511-0311 for a mail-in application and mail it with proof of eligibility to Emergency Broadband Support Center, P.O. Box 7081 London, KY 40742. AARP has also set up an information website at aarp.org/EBB. You can also text INTERNET to 22777 or call 1-833-511-0311.
People eligible for the FCC Lifeline program automatically qualify. Those who get Medicaid, SNAP or SSI benefits can apply, as well as those who have seen a substantial drop in income since Feb. 29, 2020 below $99,000 for single filers and $198,000 for joint filers. Residents who meet the criteria for a participating internet provider’s existing low-income or COVID-19 program are also eligible.
Participating providers in Hawai‘i include the American Broadband and Telecommunications Company, AT&T, Charter Spectrum, Cricket Wireless, Hawaii Dialogix Telecom, Hawaiian Telcom, Selectel Wireless, T-Mobile and Verizon.
Yamashita, a retiree, likely doesn’t qualify for the benefit, but sees its value and encourages kupuna to apply and to go online if they haven’t been using the internet since the benefit reduces the cost of in-home or wireless internet service.
“I have a couple of friends who don’t go online,” Yamashita said. “I tell them, ‘Just try it.’”
Craig Gima is communications director at AARP Hawai‘i. He is an award-winning multimedia communicator with more than 30 years of experience. A Honolulu native, Gima spent nearly 19 years at the Honolulu Star-Advertiser in a variety of reporting, editing and online roles before joining AARP in 2016. Gima graduated cum laude from the University of Southern California.