Like water or electricity, internet access has become a household necessity. During the pandemic lockdown, many seniors relied heavily on internet-based services to chat with family members, order essentials, and stay updated on news and current events.
The Internet improved personal connection and allowed an increased level of safety and convenience with shopping, deliveries and video connection. And the increase in popularity of smart, connected devices, which require a home internet connection, can also offer significant quality-of-life improvements for seniors. Fall monitoring devices, lights controlled by voice or on automatic timers, temperature controls and home security systems have all improved the experience of aging in place.
However, the internet can still be expensive for many seniors on a fixed budget, and internet plans can be hard to understand and navigate, especially for seniors who may not need a plan with all the bells and whistles. Thankfully, between the discount programs of many providers and federally-funded programs for low-income families and seniors, seniors on any budget now have options to get much-needed home internet access.
Lifeline is a federal program that lowers the monthly cost of phone or internet service for low-income households. This program provides eligible households with a monthly discount of up to $9.25. Consumers must apply for Lifeline and then sign up with a participating phone or internet company, recertify annually and keep their information up-to-date. You can apply for Lifeline online, via the mail or through a phone or internet company.
Emergency Broadband Benefit
If your loved one qualifies for Lifeline, they’re also eligible for the Emergency Broadband Benefit, which provides a $50 discount off their monthly internet bill. This program, designed to help households connect during the pandemic, is still available to eligible households. However, on Dec. 31, 2021, the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program will transition to the Affordable Connectivity Program, a new long-term investment in broadband affordability. The maximum monthly benefit will change from $50 per month to $30 per month. Households will have new ways to qualify for the Affordable Connectivity Program, such as receiving WIC benefits or having an income at or below 200% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines.
Internet provider programs
Servicing 21 states nationwide, AT&T offers a program for individuals who participate in the SNAP program or receive SSI benefits in California. This program, which offers registrants the maximum speed available at their address, features free installation and in-home Wi-Fi, no annual contract and no deposit for $10 a month or less.
Offering a reduced rate for qualified households, Spectrum Internet Assist will provide a free internet modem, high-speed internet, no data caps and no contracts with optional in-home Wi-Fi service. However, to take advantage of this program, one or more members of the household must be a recipient of the National School Lunch Program, Community Eligibility Provision of the NSLP, or Supplemental Security Income (for applicants age 65+ only). Interested participants must register via the online application.
Rise Broadband offers a 10% discount for active and retired military personnel with military identification. Rise serves residential and business customers in rural and suburban areas of the Midwest, Rocky Mountain and Southwest regions.
An increased number of local libraries are allowing patrons to check out laptops and internet hotspots at no cost. Check with your local library for more details on how long these internet-enabled devices are allowed to be checked out, but many libraries are offering some longer-term borrowing options. This is a great option for seniors to sample the convenience of the internet before making a longer term commitment.