SOUTHERN INDIANA — A federal program could help Southern Indiana residents struggling to afford internet access during the pandemic.

The Federal Communications Commission’s Emergency Broadband Benefit, a program to help families and households have internet access, started May 12.

The program provides a discount up to $50 a month on broadband service and one-time discounts for the purchase of devices for eligible households.

If households pay more than $10 and less than $50 toward the purchase price, they can also receive up to $100 to buy a laptop, tablet or computer.

Lara Hammond, poor relief supervisor with the Jeffersonville Township Trustee’s Office, said access to reliable, fast internet is an issue she has seen in the community, and she feels the FCC program is “great and definitely needed.”

“The problem we see with people that we serve in our office is that they’re normally people having financial hardships,” she said. “It doesn’t matter whether broadband is available or not if they can’t afford internet, and that’s the huge problem we see.”

Hammond said there are “not nearly enough” places for people to go to use computers free, and she noted that libraries were closed for a while during the early days of the pandemic.

Internet access is “becoming more of a necessity for people to function in this digital world” with remote work, online learning in schools and telehealth visits, she said.

A map from the Rural Opportunity Map breaks down broadband access by school district.

Hammond noted that most of the major internet providers in the area are participating in the Emergency Broadband Benefit program, including AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile.

Hammond said the trustee’s office plans to help people apply for the program if it is something they could benefit from, and the office has posted about the program on its Facebook page.

Charlestown Township Trustee Tom Kendrick also plans to connect residents with the FCC program.

“I’m in favor of having high-speed internet available to everyone,” he said.

In his work as trustee, he doesn’t often hear people say they cannot apply for a job because they don’t have internet, and those struggling to afford internet access often use their phones or free access at the library.

However, the pandemic has shown the need for increased internet access in the area, particularly during the shutdown, Kendrick said.

“Everything was basically online — any kind of meeting,” he said. “It really showed the need for more accessibility. I know one of the issues was some kids did not have the internet to be able to do what they needed to do, and that’s a concern.”
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