How to Get Free Broadband in LA If You’re a Low-Income Resident

Tim Hebb lives in one of more than 1.6 million households in Los Angeles that qualify for a new federal subsidy program for high-speed Internet service. And according to the Biden administration, he should be able to use that $30-a-month subsidy to get free access: 20 of the largest U.S. broadband providers. USA agreed to provide connections with download speeds of up to 100 megabits per second for no more than the grant amount.

And indeed, Hebb scored a free broadband connection from Spectrum, the cable TV operator that serves most of Los Angeles County, but it wasn’t easy. Broadband advocates say they are also hearing complaints from other consumers who have been frustrated in their efforts to use the new Affordable Connectivity Program grants.

Barriers are a factor behind the low percentage of qualified Californians who are using Affordable Connectivity Program grants: 28% statewide and 32% in LA County. Another factor, however, is that the subsidies are not well disseminated. Some Internet service providers have posted them on their websites, but if you don’t have an Internet connection, you can’t see those promotions.

To raise awareness, state and local officials, consumer advocates and several major Internet service providers plan to step up outreach in August. The effort will include delivering information about the Affordable Connectivity Program directly to households participating in Medi-Cal, CalFresh and the National School Lunch Program, which automatically qualify for the broadband subsidy.

But back to Hebb. He lives in an apartment building served by AT&T’s digital subscriber line service, which Hebb said reaches about 6 Mbps. The main alternative there is Spectrum, but when you checked the cable company’s broadband page, the least expensive deal was a $50/month 300Mbps connection.

Hebb stood by, knowing from a separate page on Spectrum’s website that the company is offering a $30, 100Mbps tier to people who qualify for the Affordable Connectivity Program. He called the customer service line, where a representative “stole 15-20 minutes of my life that I will never get back trying to sell me a $105+ service package after I explicitly asked for the ACP-compatible 100 Internet plan for $30./month,” he said in an email.

The representative eventually told her the $30 plan “wasn’t available,” Hebb said, so she emailed a reporter and Spectrum about her situation. He soon got a call from a Spectrum sales manager in San Antonio who seemed eager to set him up on the $30 plan. But “as the 21-minute call progressed and he began processing the order,” Hebb wrote in an email, the manager “had to back off on the offer and ultimately ended up confirming the results of my first two efforts to get the deal. NO available in SoCal because the minimum speed available here is 300 Mbps, not 100 Mbps.”

As it happened, that was not true. The sales manager called Hebb on Thursday with good news: He had arranged for Hebb to get the service that Spectrum offers to households in the Affordable Connectivity Program. “I didn’t bother to ask if this deal is available to anyone in SoCal who qualifies for the ACP,” Hebb said in an email. “I think this is a ‘squeaky wheel’ deal, to be frank.”

Dennis Johnson, a spokesman for Spectrum, said the $30-a-month deal is available to any qualifying Southern California household, not just Hebb. He pointed to the homepage of Spectrum’s website, which features the Affordable Connectivity Program in a banner at the top and links to a page where you can check your eligibility. In fact, when you call Spectrum’s customer service line now, a recorded message tells you about the program while you wait to speak with a representative.

Many consumers have encountered customer service representatives who do not know what their own company offers. Still, Sunne Wright McPeak, president and CEO of the California Emerging Technology Fund, said Internet service providers appear to be trying to upsell people who qualify for the Affordable Connectivity Program on more expensive tiers as they switch their services. towards higher speeds.

Hebb said: “I just wonder how many potential ACP approved subscribers are actually able to get a net zero dollar service from any of the ‘participating’ providers that are described. There are so many barriers and obstacles to making these offers effective in schemes of bait and switch, I think most people would give up.”

Meanwhile, Cox, Comcast, Frontier and AT&T say they offer eligible households in California’s Affordable Connectivity Program up to 100 Mbps downloads (with AT&T’s technology, the length of the subscriber’s connection affects data speed) without any kind of exit. out of pocket cost. Cox also has a discounted service aimed at families with K-12 students at home, offering a 100Mbps connection for $10 a month.

Starry offers a $30 per month, 100Mbps version of its high-speed fixed wireless service in the locations it serves, but T-Mobile and Verizon do not. Instead, T-Mobile offers a discounted wireless data plan for smartphones, and Verizon offers $30-a-month 300Mbps service to customers on its East Coast Wired networks.

The biggest problem, McPeak said, is how poorly the grants have been advertised. Promotion of the discounts can make a big difference, he said, a push L.A. County officials made with the California Emerging Technology Fund in December boosted signups by 40%.

That’s why the state departments of Technology and Education, the state library, the California State Association. of counties and the California Emerging Technology Fund are conducting a coordinated outreach effort in August, culminating in August. 27 with statewide Accessible Connectivity Program enrollment events that will provide hands-on help with applications. Signing up for the grants can be challenging for people who can’t afford internet service, McPeak said, since you have to apply online.

How to find out if you qualify

Affordable Connectivity Program grants are available to any household earning no more than 200% of the federal poverty level, which is tied to household size. For a single individual, the threshold is $27,180 this year. For a family of four, it’s $55,500.

But there’s an easier way to check your eligibility: You can qualify for the program if someone in your household is enrolled in at least one of 10 types of safety net programs, including CalFresh, Medi-Cal, Supplemental Security Income, Pell grants and federal public. housing subsidies. Recipients of select tribal benefit programs are also eligible, and grants on tribal land are higher: $75 per month.

To see if you qualify or to submit an application, you can visit the White House’s “Get Internet” webpage, which can guide you through the process. An email application is also available on the Get Internet site; can also be found on the Accessible Connectivity Program application page. All of these resources, however, require internet access and a computer, tablet or smartphone.

If you have questions about how to apply but don’t have Internet access, you can call the program’s help center toll-free: (877) 384-2575. Orientation is provided in English and Spanish.

Once your application is approved, the grants will go directly to the participating broadband provider of your choice. To find one in your area, check out the program listing, which you can search by zip code or city. The list includes more than 90 participating providers near Los Angeles, although many of them are companies that resell service to one of the major wireless networks.

If you already have internet access, your broadband provider may have their own subsidy application process. You should start by checking with your Internet service provider.

The Affordable Connectivity Program has no expiration date, but Congress can decide at any time to cut funding.

About the Times Utility Journalism Team

This article is from the Times’ feature journalism team. Our mission is to be essential to the lives of Southern Californians by publishing information that solves problems, answers questions and aids decision making. We serve audiences in and around Los Angeles, including current Times subscribers and diverse communities whose needs have historically been underserved by our coverage.

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