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Gov. Tom Wolf urges Pennsylvanians to apply for federal internet assistance

Elaine Thompson

Gov. Tom Wolf is encouraging eligible Pennsylvanians to apply for federal internet assistance. The Affordable Connectivity Program was established as part of the $1 trillion infrastructure package passed by Congress last year.

Households that qualify for it can receive up to $30 off monthly internet bills (or $75 a month on Tribal lands), as well as a one-time benefit of $100 toward buying a laptop, desktop or tablet, limited to one monthly service and one device per household.

Eligible families must have an income that is at or below 200% of the federal poverty level, or participate in one of several federal assistance programs, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Medicaid.

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Of the 2 million households in the Commonwealth eligible for the cost-saving measure, according to state officials, less than a quarter of them — or 490,000 households — are currently enrolled.

In Allegheny County alone, 44,903 households have enrolled in the program to date. That's roughly one in every five of the 206,667 households that are eligible.

According to Meta Mesh Community Wireless, a Pittsburgh-based nonprofit internet service provider, 10% of households in the city do not have a computer. In neighborhoods like the Hill District, Larimer and Homewood, that number rose to 15%.

“The Affordable Connectivity Program is another opportunity to help us close the digital divide so that all Pennsylvanians can have internet service,” Wolf said in a statement Wednesday. “The need for reliable, at-home internet service is essential and this program aids more households in accessing the online resources they need for work, school and health care. I urge all eligible Pennsylvanians to apply for this program today.”

A report released this spring by the Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission and several local non-profits found that 87% of households in the region pay $11 more per month than the average American for home internet.

According to a survey conducted across 10 counties by the SPC, 12% of residents rely on their cellular data plan for their main home internet, and 2% have no home internet access at all.

When looking at disparities across race and age, researchers found 91% of Latino residents in the region said their smartphone was their only connected device, while 54% of respondents over the age of 65 use a desktop computer to access the internet.

As of May, 20 internet companies have agreed to provide discounted service to those enrolled in the program. Residents that apply their discount to a plan provided by one of these providers will have no remaining out-of-pocket cost.

Those participating include Allo Communications, AltaFiber (and Hawaiian Telecom), Altice USA (Optimum and Suddenlink), Astound, AT&T, Breezeline, Comcast, Comporium, Frontier, IdeaTek, Cox Communications, Jackson Energy Authority, MediaCom, MLGC, Spectrum (Charter Communications), Starry, Verizon (Fios only), Vermont Telephone Co., Vexus Fiber and Wow! Internet, Cable, and TV. Together, they cover more than 80% of the country’s population across urban, suburban, and rural areas, according to the White House.

Internet plans provided by partnering companies will offer a minimum of 100 megabits per second download speeds. Researchers with the SPC consider those areas “well served”.

The Biden administration’s $1 trillion infrastructure package set aside $14.2 billion for the federal subsidy. The administration says 48 million households nationwide are eligible.

Residents can apply online at Once approved, individuals must contact their preferred internet provider to select a plan and have the discount applied to their bill.

Some internet providers might also require individuals to complete an application as well.

Jillian Forstadt is an education reporter at 90.5 WESA. Before moving to Pittsburgh, she covered affordable housing, homelessness and rural health care at WSKG Public Radio in Binghamton, New York. Her reporting has appeared on NPR’s Morning Edition.