The FCC seeks guidance on how to disperse more than $3 billion Congress approved to subsidize internet service for low-income households. The money was part of the latest stimulus package. Participating companies in the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program will be reimbursed for providing discounted broadband service and connected devices to eligible households during the pandemic.
To join the program, a provider must opt-in, and either be designated as an eligible telecommunications carrier or be approved by the FCC. Providers will give eligible households a monthly discount off the standard rate for internet service and associated equipment, up to $50 per month. On tribal lands, the monthly discount may be up to $75 per month.
Providers that also supply an eligible household with a laptop, desktop computer, or tablet (connected device) for use during the pandemic may be reimbursed up to $100 for the device — if the charge to the household for that device is more than $10 but less than $50. An eligible household may receive only one supported device.
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said he called on Congress in June to fund a program to advance the Keep Americans Connected initiative. The agency launched the program when the pandemic started. “Our staff is moving quickly to stand up this program so we can quickly direct funding to consumers who need the help, while also guarding against waste, fraud, and abuse.”
FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel tweeted: ”We need 100 percent of us connected to broadband in this country. No matter who you are or where you live. This should be national policy… Let’s go. Let’s do it.”
“I have great expectations for this program,” stated FCC Commissioner Geoffrey Starks. “If we’re successful, the Emergency Broadband Benefit will reach more low-income people than any previous FCC effort to close the digital divide. That’s a high bar, and we need robust public input to clear that hurdle.”
In structuring the program, the Commission seeks input on issues such as:
- Which providers can participate in the program and what do they need to do to participate?
- How should the Commission set up an expedited process for approving broadband providers for areas where they are not eligible telecommunications carriers?
- How should the FCC and providers track participating households and verify that they are eligible?
- What services and connected devices are eligible for reimbursement from the program?
- How should the agency structure the reimbursement process?
- What rules are needed to ensure appropriate service on tribal lands?
- How should the Commission and participating providers promote awareness of the program?
- What requirements are needed for robust auditing and enforcement of federal rules?
- What reporting requirements are needed both during the program and at its conclusion?
Comments to WC Docket No. 20-445 are due by January 25.
By Leslie Stimson, Inside Towers Washington Bureau Chief
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