Some ‘legacy’ customers having trouble accessing internet assist program

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) — Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s plan to mandate internet companies offer low-income families high-speed access for $15 per month is now on hold. A federal judge halted its implementation after a number of internet companies sued. While that plays out in the courts, families are even more reliant on a federal program that helps pay their bill. The problem? Some folks who qualify are still running into roadblocks.

John Derycke of Rochester relies on the internet for a lot.

“My [Frontier] plan is $54.99 and then they tack on a $6.99 infrastructure charge,” he told News10NBC.

It’s a lot for him to keep up with so when the federal government announced its Emergency Broadband Benefit (EBB) Program which provides low-income folks with $50 per month toward their internet bill, Derycke jumped on it.

“I went to the site to verify eligibility, I qualify and that was on May 11, I called Frontier and I spoke to Monique and she told me everything’s great we’re good to go,” Derycke said.

But when his bill came the next month, there was no credit.

He didn’t like what he was told when he called.

“After being put on hold for 20 minutes, I finally got back with the woman and she immediately said you don’t qualify because you have 24 MB and you need 25,” Derycke said.

He says he then asked to talk with a supervisor who basically told him the same thing.

Derycke says he searched the EBB page and information and couldn’t find a requirement that a customer have a plan with a certain level of megabits to qualify.

Jennifer Lewke (News10NBC) – A lot of people might say why bother with them just cancel and go to Spectrum or another competitor?

John Derycke – At the end of the program that means I have to stop Spectrum or stay with them… I don’t want to stay with them because then I know my prices will rise significantly, so that means I have to jettison back to Frontier and get DSL so I want to avoid all of that, I’d prefer to just stay with Frontier and keep my setup.

Derycke is right, the EBB Program is temporary. The federal government is paying for it until the money funding it runs out. How quickly the money runs out depends on how many people take advantage of it… currently, it looks like it’ll last for about a year. After that, the low-income family is on the hook for the full amount of whatever internet plan they are receiving.

In a statement, a spokesman for Frontier said, “While a limited number of customers have a grandfathered Frontier product that is not eligible for the Emergency Broadband benefit, we are committed to transitioning these customers to comparable eligible offerings so they can receive the financial benefits. Frontier is working closing with our customer to resolve the situation.”

The FCC says on its site that the benefit is available to eligible new, prior and existing customers of participating providers, it makes no mention of speed requirements but internet service provider participation is voluntary and the companies do get to establish some of their own rules for how it runs. While Frontier didn’t detail its specific plans, News10NBC has heard from customers of other ISPs with legacy plans who ran into similar issues.

Bottom line: If you want to switch your internet plan to ensure you get the EBB, make sure you know what you’re signing up for because you’ll be on the hook for the total cost once the program expires.