FCC Adopts Rules to Establish Federal Fund for Broadband Discount to Households

The Emergency Broadband Benefit Program (“EBBP”) was established in the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 (“CAA”) to provide a $50 discount to eligible households ($75 per household on tribal lands) to help pay for broadband services. The EBBP will also provide a one-time discount of up to $100 for a computer or tablet to qualifying households. The Federal Communications Commission’s (“FCC” or “Commission”) Report and Order (“Order”) sets out to implement the EBBP. The FCC has directed the Wireline Competition Bureau to establish a timeline for the submission of information by providers seeking to take advantage of the program. The program is expected to be available to eligible households within in 60 days. Below is a brief summary of the Order.

Application and Election Procedures: All providers that wish to participate must file an election notice with the Universal Service Administrative Company (“USAC”) to participate. Both ETCs and non-ETCs seeking to participate in the program must establish they provide broadband services in order to do so. Carriers can demonstrate that they provide service through their filed FCC Form 477. For carriers that do not file FCC Form 477, participating providers must certify that they provided retail broadband Internet access to end-users as of December 1, 2020. USAC will announce a uniform start date establishing when providers can begin to enroll qualifying subscribers.

Covered Services and Devices: Qualifying Internet service offerings must include a fixed or mobile broadband connection used for essential purposes during the pandemic. The Commission declined to apply minimum service standards to covered services. The Commission takes a technology neutral approach and finds it that the EBBP will cover equipment necessary for the transmission of Internet service offerings. Further, the CAA narrowly defined connected devices and, as such, these will only include a laptop, desktop computer or tablet.

Household Eligibility: A household will be deemed eligible for the EBBP subsidy if a member of the household: qualifies for the Lifeline program; receives a Federal Pell Grant; receives benefits under the free and reduced-price school lunch program or the school breakfast program; experienced a substantial loss of income since February 29, 2020; or meets the eligibility criteria for a participating providers’ existing low-income or COVID-19 program. Providers must verify that a household qualifies through the National Lifeline Eligibility Verifier (“National Verifier”). A provider can also use an alternate verification process if it is approved by the FCC, however, the FCC declined to provide a model alternative verification process.

Notice to Consumers: The FCC requires that the providers retain documentation that demonstrates that “prior to enrolling an existing subscriber in the EBB Program, the provider clearly disclosed to the household that the EBB Program is a government program that reduces the customer’s broadband Internet access service bill, is temporary in nature, that the household will be subject to the provider’s undiscounted rates and general terms and conditions at the end of the program if they continue to receive service, that the household may obtain broadband service supported by the EBB Program from any participating provider of their choosing, and that the household may transfer their EBB Program benefit to another provider at any time.”[1]

Budget and Reimbursement: The CAA has allocated $3.2 billion for the EBBP. USAC’s Lifeline Claims System will be used to reimburse providers. The disbursement of EBBP funds will be based on the number of program subscribers enrolled with a provider in the National Lifeline Accountability Database (“NLAD”) as of the first of each month. In order to accurately project when the money will run out, a provider must submit its reimbursement claims by the 15th of each month or the following day if the 15th is a weekend or holiday. The Commission will develop an online tracker to help forecast the end of the program.

If you have questions please contact Dee Herman at dee@hermanwhiteaker.com or Hilary Rosenthal at hrosenthal@hermanwhiteaker.com.