BEAUMONT, Texas — Water, electricity, sewer, and garbage are all key utilities, but the internet has quickly become our most important monthly payment.
As more of us work from home and learn from home, reliable internet is crucial for almost every household.
Now, The Federal Communications Commission is helping low-income families bridge the digital divide.
The FCC had a program similar to this one last year. The government agency is now offering its new ACP program, which is expanding the qualifications so that more people can afford the internet they desperately need.
"It's the world we live in right now, you need internet, you have to have it,” said Beaumont resident Madison Hopson.
Hopson can afford it but he said his neighbors aren't as lucky.
"There's a couple kids around the neighborhood man who come and just sit on the stoop by the trashcans so they can use Spindletop’s wi-fi," Hopson said.
He said they sit in front of his house to use the wi-fi from the Spindletop museum, which is in his backyard.
"People need internet access. The world we live in has made it so people do need internet access," Hopson said.
That's where the FCC comes in. With the newly affordable connectivity program, low-income households can get help paying for service from a list of providers like AT&T.
"I think that this will qualify more people, make it more accessible to others, and again. It's a big difference from 200% to 130%, and they are making it very easy to apply," said Luis Silva, AT&T Vice President in South Texas.
Silva said all you have to do is sign up.
"It goes immediately as a credit on the account, on a monthly basis,” Silva said. In the second month, you immediately get a credit on the bill, so there’s not a lot to do after you sign up."
The list of ways to qualify has been expanded this year.
If your household income is equal to or less than 200% of the federal poverty guidelines or maybe you participate in an assistance program, all it takes is one member of your household qualifying to be eligible.
And you can review the information at acpbenefit.org.
"In this area, the internet should be a little cheaper," said Beaumont resident James Mayfield.
Mayfield is planning to see if he qualifies.
"I hope I can, it would be a great justice to me, and the community, because we got hit by the flood a couple of years ago and we're all here reconstructing our homes," Mayfield said.
And for those who do qualify, it's a no-brainer.
"If it can come cheaper and have the same quality, why not," Hopson said.
For all the information on whether or not you qualify, visit acpbenefit.org.
Resources available for more information: