BEMIDJI -- The Federal Communications Commission has established a new program to help pay internet bills.

According to a release, the temporary benefit program was created to help lower the cost of broadband services for eligible households during the coronavirus pandemic. The $3.2 billion program provides a discount of up to $50 per month toward broadband service for eligible households and up to $75 per month for eligible households on tribal lands.

The program will also provide up to $100 per household toward a one-time purchase of a computer, laptop, or tablet if the household contributes more than $10 and less than $50 toward the purchase through a participating broadband provider. Residents can begin applying on May 12.

Paul Bunyan Communications, one of the region's main providers, is working to raise awareness this week on the program. The communications cooperative has a 5,500 square mile fiber-optic network in Beltrami, Cass, Hubbard, Itasca, Koochiching and St. Louis Counties.

"Obviously the pandemic has hit a lot of people hard so this is a chance to get some relief on their broadband bills," said Brian Bissonette, market supervisor at Paul Bunyan Communications. "Broadband has become very essential, similar to electricity. Broadband provides that access to whatever it is someone needs to do. With the pandemic, working from home, telehealth and distance learning have all jumped to the forefront."

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People are eligible if they meet one of the following criteria:

  • Households with an income that is at or below 135% of the federal poverty guidelines or participates in certain assistance programs such as SNAP or Medicaid.
  • Approved to receive benefits under the free and reduced-price school lunch program.
  • Received a federal pell grant during the current year.
  • Experienced a substantial loss of income through job loss or a furlough since Feb. 29, 2020, and the household had a total income in 2020 at or below $99,000 for single filers and $198,000 for joint filers.

Paul Bunyan Communications has more information on its website and its office can be reached at (218) 444-1234. Another local provider, Midco, also has details on its website.

Additional information can be found on the FCC's website or by calling (833) 511-0311.