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GCI will offer its standard internet plan for free to those in need starting today to help more Alaskans work from home, access education resources and stay connected.

Telecommunications provider General Communication Inc. announced Monday that it will deliver free internet to qualified Alaskans who struggle to pay for internet service during the pandemic. The assistance will come through the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program launched by the Federal Communications Commission: a federal initiative providing discounts on internet service and equipment to low-income households.

“In 2020, we saw a major shift in our network traffic as Alaskans began working and learning from home; it makes access to connectivity more important than ever,” said GCI Chief Communications Officer Heather Handyside. “Initiatives like the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program will help support those hit hardest by the pandemic by helping them stay connected to the internet, upgrade their plans to better support their home use, or to get internet for the first time.”

The new program will provide eligible GCI customers with a $75 per month credit, covering the cost of GCI’s entry-level internet plan. The money can be also applied to pay for plans with more speed and data.

“It’s important to remember that families may have different connectivity needs, especially if they are working or attending school remotely, or are safely socially distancing in their homes,” Handyside said.

While customers can’t use the credit for outstanding fees, they can pay for new plans with it. They can also buy a $139.99 Samsung tablet for a one-time payment of $10.99.

The purpose of the program is to support families in working and studying from home, as well as staying connected to each other, according to the news release.

In early April 2020, roughly half of Americans said that the internet has been essential for them during the Covid-19-pandemic, according to a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center. The results highlighted the digital divide — the gap between those who do or do not have access to technology — which may hinder people’s ability to complete everyday tasks or schoolwork, especially for people with lower incomes.

“Providing fast, reliable internet access is key to closing the digital divide and bringing digital equity to our state,” Handyside said.

Alaskans interested in the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program need to pre-qualify for the program through the FCC’s National Verifier which is available starting today. According to FCC, eligible Alaskans include those who qualify for free or reduced-price school lunch; people who lost a big part of their income during the pandemic; those who received a Pell Grant this year; and households with a member who is already eligible for the federal Lifeline program providing discounts on phone service.

After customers verify their eligibility, they would need to opt into the program through GCI. To learn more about the program, go to www.gci.com/internet/emergency-broadband-benefit-program.

Contact staff writer Alena Naiden at 459-7587. Follow her at twitter.com/FDNMlocal.