The incredible popularity of a new U.S. government initiative to help low-income families get online during the Covid-19 pandemic has led some justice advocates to demand lawmakers do more, with one group on Thursday calling for a permanent program to close the \u0022digital divide\u0022 that research suggests is getting worse.\r\n\r\n\u0022We urge Congress to work with the Federal Communications Commission to put a permanent program in place to satisfy the needs of our communities after the EBB program is over.\u0022\r\n—Brandon Forrester, MediaJustice\r\n\r\nFederal Communications Commission Acting Chair Jessica Rosenworcel announced in a statement Thursday that over one million households from all 50 states, Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and American Samoa enrolled in the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program (EBBP) during its first week.\r\n\r\n\u0022The high demand we\u0026#039;ve seen for the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program demonstrates what many of us already knew to be true—too many families are struggling to get online, even in 2021,\u0022 she said. \u0022Help is here. As an agency, we\u0026#039;re continuing to focus our efforts on reaching as many communities as possible, so they can get the support they need.\u0022\r\n\r\nThe temporary program was unanimously approved by FCC commissioners in February, after Congress allocated $3.2 billion to it in the December Covid-19 relief package. The EBBP will only last until that funding runs out or six months after the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services declares the pandemic is over.\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n1 week since the FCC Emergency Broadband Benefit began. 1 million households enrolled. It’s the largest broadband affordability program in US history \u0026amp; it’s just getting started. We need to keep at it until 100% of us are connected to high-speed service.https://t.co/iLJwielOTf\r\n— Jessica Rosenworcel (@JRosenworcel) May 20, 2021\r\n\r\n\r\nUnder the program, eligible households—which include people enrolled in certain government assistance programs or pandemic relief programs of internet service providers (ISPs)—get discounts of up to $50 a month, or $75 on tribal lands, for broadband service. There is also a one-time $100 discount for a computer or tablet.\r\n\r\n\u0022Over 900 broadband providers have agreed to take part in the program,\u0022 according to the FCC statement. \u0022Customers can sign up by contacting a participating provider, enroll online at https://www.getemergencybroadband.org, or sign up via mail. To learn more or learn where to access a mail-in application, call (833) 511-0311.\u0022\r\n\r\nWhile the agency and U.S. House Committee on Energy and Commerce celebrated the program\u0026#039;s first week as a significant step forward, since its launch, critics of the digital divide have doubled down on calls for policymakers to go even further to boost broadband access.\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\nAfter just one week, over 1 million families have enrolled in the Emergency Broadband Benefit program, marking a milestone in our mission to close the #DigitalDivide! This program is proving to be significant for those struggling to afford internet service. https://t.co/0gGScmYPt0\r\n— Energy and Commerce Committee (@EnergyCommerce) May 20, 2021\r\n\r\n\r\n\u0022The Emergency Broadband Benefit Program has the potential to help millions of families, too often people of color and other communities who have been historically divested from, get connected online and have access to everything the internet makes possible and is necessary for today,\u0022 said Brandon Forrester, national organizer for internet rights and platform accountability at MediaJustice, in a statement Thursday.\r\n\r\n\u0022The high cost of high-quality internet service has posed a persistent barrier that keeps lower-income families from the resources they need to work, live, and learn,\u0022 Forrester said. \u0022We urge Congress to work with the Federal Communications Commission to put a permanent program in place to satisfy the needs of our communities after the EBB program is over.\u0022\r\n\r\nMediaJustice has also created a website to help potential applicants to the EBBP.\r\n\r\n\u0022At EBBhelp.org, individuals can find out if they are eligible for free or discounted internet and will have access to all the tools they need to learn more about the benefits program and how to apply,\u0022 Forrester explained. \u0022To close the digital divide, we need to reduce the stigma of not being able to afford home broadband, demystify federal agency applications for these discounts, and encourage people not to miss out on this opportunity to sign up for these long-awaited resources.\u0022\r\n\r\n\u0022Though more than a million people have enrolled,\u0022 he added, \u0022the hard work of reaching the most disconnected and marginalized is still ahead of us and we hope EBBhelp.org is a tool anyone can use to help those in their communities to sign up who need [the benefit] most.\u0022\r\n\r\nWhile the EBBP is now providing welcome relief to some U.S. families, Washington Post technology columnist Geoffrey Fowler highlighted on Monday that \u0022companies like Verizon are twisting it into an opportunity for an upsell,\u0022 which \u0022might be allowed by the letter of the law but certainly isn\u0026#039;t the spirit of the program.\u0022\r\n\r\nEric of Hopedale, Massachusetts told Fowler that getting the $50 discount would require him to switch from paying $62 for no-contract internet service to a $79 Verizon Fios plan. He wrote in an email to the columnist, \u0022I\u0026#039;m sure the whole point of Fios doing this is to get more people to sign up for either their TV or mobile services.\u0022\r\n\r\nFowler also shared other stories of Post readers\u0026#039; experiences with the program:\r\n\r\n\r\nAnnie Styles from Arlington, Virginia, who pays $79 per month for her internet, says Verizon told her she would have to switch to a plan that would cost her closer to $95. \u0022I stopped pursuing it with them after the math didn\u0026#039;t work out,\u0022 she says.\r\n\r\nSharon from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, who asked to be identified only by her first name, said she was told by two customer service representatives that she could receive the EBB discount only if she increased her current internet speed and reconfigured her TV package, too. She said the ultimate price would have depended on what video package she was forced to switch to, as well as new equipment with fees—but she dropped her EBB application out of frustration before she got that far.\r\nWhen the EBB ends, she estimates, her overall monthly internet and TV bill would be at least $50 higher. \u0022In my case, it seems like EBB only benefits Verizon,\u0022 she said.\r\n\r\nVerizon spokesperson Alex Lawson told the Post that the company\u0026#039;s website makes clear which plans qualify for the program, adding: \u0022There\u0026#039;s really no story here. We\u0026#039;re on the side of the customer and want to ensure they pay for what they need, and not for what they don\u0026#039;t.\u0022\r\n\r\nHowever, Dana Floberg, policy manager at the group Free Press Action, called Verizon\u0026#039;s reported behavior \u0022tremendously disappointing.\u0022\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\nThis is tremendously disappointing.\r\n\r\nISPs could just accept the $50 EBB for *all* their plans and tiers. The money’s just as good. Forcing people to switch plans in order to use the benefit they legally qualify for is, at best, manipulative. https://t.co/lNHI7sQzii\r\n— Dana Floberg (@dana_flo) May 17, 2021\r\n\r\n\r\nIn a Free Press analysis of the EBBP last week, Floberg highlighted the group\u0026#039;s recent report that revealed \u0022monthly broadband costs continue to rise much faster than the rate of inflation\u0022 and \u0022low-cost options are all but disappearing as providers keep raising the price of their entry-level service tiers.\u0022\r\n\r\n\u0022These problems existed long before the pandemic, and we need long-term solutions for them,\u0022 she wrote. \u0022But establishing the EBB program is still a huge opportunity for those who\u0026#039;ve been struggling during this health crisis to receive some long-overdue relief—and to make certain they can get and stay connected to the internet.\u0022\r\n\r\nThe ACLU echoed that message on Twitter when the EBBP launched last week.\r\n\r\n\u0022This is progress, but broadband was a necessity before the pandemic and will continue to be one long after. We must do more,\u0022 the group said. \u0022Passing the Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act would be an important step.\u0022\r\n\r\nThat legislation, reintroduced in March by Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.) and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), would invest $94 billion in improving U.S. broadband infrastructure and making internet access more affordable.