Internet subsidies are out there, but many still haven't signed up

·4 min read
Lights flicker on a new broadband router connected to a data tower in Lowell, Ohio, which was funded through the federal government. Now, due to negotiations between President Joe Biden's administration and 20 major internet providers, eligible households can apply for high-speed broadband plans that cost $30 per month.
Lights flicker on a new broadband router connected to a data tower in Lowell, Ohio, which was funded through the federal government. Now, due to negotiations between President Joe Biden's administration and 20 major internet providers, eligible households can apply for high-speed broadband plans that cost $30 per month.

More than 99,000 households in Franklin County have little to no internet access.

This isn't a new problem — over a million Ohioans lack access to quality, high-speed internet. Both the state and federal government have recognized this since the start of the pandemic in 2020.

Now the federal government has doubled down on its commitment to help those struggling to afford this 21st century utility.

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Last year, Congress passed an infrastructure bill that established the $14 billion Affordability Connectivity Program, an initiative that enables low-income, qualifying Americans to receive a $30 discount on their monthly internet bills.

And in May President Joe Biden announced his administration had negotiated with 20 major internet providers to provide even more subsidies.

Eligible households now can apply for access plans that cost $30 per month. If those residents are also enrolled in the federal affordability program under the right provider, they can access what are essentially free internet services.

But, months later, not nearly as many people are enrolled as are eligible, according to Terra Goodnight, policy director at Innovation Ohio, a nonprofit group dedicated to equity for Ohio's working families.

Fewer than 500,000 Ohioans have enrolled in the Affordability Connectivity Program, so far. Statistics for the most recent subsidy are not available.

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Three of the national internet providers offering $30 per month plans — AT&T, Charter Communications (Spectrum) and Breezeline (formerly known as WOW!) — cover 100% of the households in Franklin County, Goodnight said.

She explained that based off of the federal poverty line, an individual making roughly $27,000 or less qualifies for the affordability program. A household of four qualifies if they make a total of $55,500 or less.

Anyone who qualifies for the affordability program also is eligible for the more recent subsidies.

"A lot of families are going to be eligible," Goodnight said.

How do I know if my family or I am eligible in Franklin County?

There's more than one way to qualify for the programs.

Households with at least one family member enrolled in a number of government programs are eligible. These include those receiving Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, Medicaid, housing assistance, Supplemental Security Income (SSI), and help from the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC).

That eligibility also extends to anyone who receives free and reduced-price school lunches or a Pell Grant, according to Innovation Ohio Education Fund's 2022 Broadband Report released last month.

It's important for people to recognize how much they can save under this program, Goodnight said, especially when the average cost of an internet connection in Franklin County is $63.85, according to BroadbandNow, a data aggregation company that helps consumers compare internet provider costs.

So far there hasn't been enough public awareness about the Affordability Connectivity Program or the latest round of subsidies, Goodnight said.

"People didn't know this was out there until the administration did this latest announcement," she said.

What internet providers offer $30 per month plans?

To see if you or your family qualifies under the Affordability Connectivity Program or the new $30 per month internet plan, people can check out the federal website

Households that qualify for the program also have an opportunity to receive a discount of up to $100 on a laptop, desktop computer or tablet up to $100 from certain providers.

All of these internet options are high-speed broadband connections of at least 100 megabytes per second — fast enough for at least four people to independently stream a Netflix show, hop on a Zoom call or play online video games.

That's significant, Goodnight said, because the Federal Communications Commission's minimum standard speed is still 25 megabits per second for downloads and 3 megabits per second for uploads, or 25/3 Mbps.

"It's just another inequity," she said. "There are a lot of digital gaps, but this is a great opportunity with school starting soon and COVID flaring up again."

Céilí Doyle is a Report for America corps member and covers rural issues in Ohio for The Dispatch. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep her writing stories like this one. Please consider making a tax-deductible gift at

You can reach her via email at or follow her on Twitter at @cadoyle_18. 

This article originally appeared on The Columbus Dispatch: Can't afford your internet bill? Subsidies can help