UPDATE The FCC voted Thursday to formally adopt rules to establish the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program. The $3.2 billion federal initiative will provide qualifying households discounts on their internet service bills and an opportunity to receive a discount on a computer or tablet.
The bi-partisan 2-2 vote occurred just four days after Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel circulated the Report & Order to her colleagues for a decision. The program, she said, “will help those sitting in cars in parking lots just to catch a WiFi signal to go online for work. It will help those lingering outside the library with a laptop just to get a wireless signal for remote learning. It will help those who worry about choosing between paying a broadband bill and paying rent or buying groceries.”
The Commission staff is working to get the program up and running. Rosenworcel anticipates eligible households will be able to apply within 60 days.
The Emergency Broadband Benefit Program will provide eligible households with discounts of up to $50 a month for broadband service, and up to $75 a month if the household is on tribal land. Eligible households would receive a one-time discount of up to $100 on a computer or tablet. Providers can be reimbursed for the discounts.
The program is open to households that participate in an existing low-income or pandemic relief program offered by a broadband provider; Lifeline subscribers, including those that are on Medicaid or accept SNAP benefits; households with kids receiving free and reduced-price lunch or school breakfast; and Pell grant recipients; and those who have lost jobs and seen their income reduced in the last year.
Commissioner Geoffrey Starks said he’s proud to implement the rules, and focused on making the program work well for the country’s highest poverty communities. “For millions of struggling families, an unexpected $25 bill can be a lot. Requiring providers to seek an opt-in ensures families will not be forced to make big sacrifices to pay an unwelcome bill or end up with an unpaid balance to a provider that potentially locks them out of future broadband opportunities.”
New Commissioner Nathan Simington thanked rural providers for explaining their views to him. “They advocated for a common start date to the program, a lighter compliance load for non-ETC providers, and an expedited review of their eligibility verification processes.” All of these concerns were addressed in the order, according to Simington.
Industry was pleased as well. Competitive Carriers Association President/CEO Steve Berry said: “All Americans, particularly those in rural areas, need and deserve access to critical mobile broadband services and devices, and the Commission’s act is certainly a good step toward closing the digital divide.”
“Timely implementation of this program is essential to keeping low-income households connected during this challenging time,” said CTIA SVP Regulatory Affairs Scott Bergmann. “The wireless industry looks forward to working with the FCC to ensure eligible consumers across the country can apply this important benefit to mobile wireless services.”
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