No catch: Free Wi-Fi for qualifying households

By Sarah Brown
Lebanon Local

Shiela Rogers wants to sign as many people up for free wifi as she can. That’s because it’s her job, but she also finds it’s a job that’s changing lives.

“When there’s people out there that have no way of communicating – can’t call their children, can’t video their children – and then they get this, they walk away so happy,” Rogers said. “It’s life-changing for many, many people.”

Rogers is an “outreach agent” for the Federal Communications Commission’s Affordable  Connectivity Program (ACP). Through the program, qualifying low-income households can get a tablet and receive up to 25 gigabytes of 4G Wi-Fi data a month for up to five years at no charge. Users can opt to switch the program to, instead, shave $30 off their monthly home Internet service bill.

Here’s how it works: Apply online at GetInternet.gov, or contact Rogers at 458.266.0149. Pay a one-time co-pay activation fee of $11. The easiest way to qualify, Rogers said, is if the household is already enrolled in a government assistance program, such as WIC, food stamps, Section 8 housing, Medicaid, SSI or Veterans Pension, or if their child is in the free or reduced-price school lunch program.

Otherwise, a qualifying household is determined on household size and income. More information about that can be found at AffordableConnectivity.gov/do-i-qualify/. Users must re-certify for the service every year for up to five years.

In December 2020, the Consolidated Appropriations Act 2021 became law, establishing an Emergency Broadband Connectivity Fund of $3.2 billion through the FCC to assist families with affordable Internet service during the pandemic. To do this, the FCC established the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program (EBB).

“There was a huge amount of money that was granted when COVID came, when they locked us in our homes for safety measures,” Rogers explained. “They had a reason when they started and that was because they put us in our homes and had to make sure people had a way to communicate. That was the original reason.”

But the EBB fund was set to end when the money ran out or six months after the end of the pandemic. However, in November 2021, Congress created the ACP with $14 billion. It is expected to be a long-term program. In fact, Rogers said she was told “there’s no end in sight” for the service.

“There is no catch,” she said.

Those who use the tablet for free Wi-Fi are connected via T-Mobile, but those who wish to use the $30 discount off their current Internet service can do so by contacting Rogers or another outreach agent. Those residing on tribal lands can receive up to as much as $75 off their current service.

Rogers spends most of her time offering the tablet and Wi-Fi in Sweet Home and Lebanon. She said she’s been able to connect at least a dozen people who were staying at the FAC sleep center. Rogers can be located at Ridgeway Health, 1023 Main St., in Sweet Home, on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. She will be in Lebanon on Wednesdays at varying locations, but can be reached via her phone number, 458.266.0149.

“I’m not done yet,” she said. “I’m just getting started.”