FCC Seeks Comment on Implementing $32B Emergency Broadband Benefits Program

The United States Congress recently passed the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021 (“Appropriations Act”) that allocated $3.2 billion to the Emergency Broadband Connectivity Fund Program which establishes the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program. By direction of the Appropriations Act, the Federal Communications Commission (“FCC” or “Commission”) has released a Public Notice seeking comment on implementing the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program (“EBBP”). Below is a summary of the program and the items upon which the Commission seeks comment.

The EBBP is designed to administer funds to broadband providers to allow those operators to provide low-income households a subsidy of up to $50 per month per household on broadband service. Under the program, broadband providers serving Tribal lands may provide up to a $75 per month subsidy per household. Additionally, providers that supply eligible households with a connected device and charge between $10-$50 for the device, may receive a reimbursement from the program of up to $100 per device (limited to one device per household). In order to participate in the program, a provider must be designated as an eligible communications carrier (“ETC”) or be approved to participate by the Commission. The Commission will use the Universal Service Administrative Company (“USAC”) to implement the program.

The Appropriations Act defines an “eligible household” as any household with at least one member who (1) is qualified to participate in the Lifeline Program; (2) is authorized to receive free and reduced price lunch or breakfast program; (3) has experienced a substantial loss of income since February 29, 2020 that is documented; (4) has received a Federal Pell Grant in the current award year; or (5) meets the eligibility criteria for a participating provider’s existing low-income or COVID-19 program. The Commission seeks comment on verifying eligibility.

The FCC’s Public Notice seeks comment on the eligibility for participation in the program and what eligible providers must do to elect to participate. Specifically, the Commission seeks comment on how it can approve, in an expeditious way, broadband providers that are not deemed ETCs. The Commission also seeks comment on what
services and connected devices should be eligible for reimbursement and on the rules necessary to ensure that providers of service on Tribal lands are able to participate in the program. In designing the reimbursement process, the Commission seeks comment on its proposal that a provider receive the reimbursement through the Lifeline Claims System by USAC.

Interested parties may file comments on or before January 25, 2021 and reply comments on or before February 16, 2021. If you would like to file comments or have questions please contact Dee Herman at dee@hermanwhiteaker.com, or Hilary Rosenthal at hrosenthal@hermanwhiteaker.com.