Since enrollment for the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program (“EBBP”) began in May 2021, 2.3 million people have signed up to receive assistance with their broadband bill. However, eligible participants have faced significant challenges to enrollment such as the requiring of a new service plan, mandatory opt-in to continuing services, language barriers, and burdensome identity verification.
To this end, NCC has joined with other public interest allies in a series of meetings with the Federal Communications Commission (“FCC”) and Universal Service Administrative Corporation (“USAC”). These teleconferences are designed to highlight ongoing challenges related to completing enrollment for the EBBP and suggesting improvements to enrollment procedures and data collection. They also serve as an opportunity to learn about ways that the FCC working to improve program administration.
NCC’s comments highlight provider errors in linking to the proper national verifier sites. We have also urged the FCC to require providers to assist consumers in navigating the enrollment process. Requiring providers to submit clear and accurate data about the enrollment process is not only essential to ensure robust participation in the EBBP, but a consumer protection measure to ensure that consumers do not make longer-term commitments that they cannot afford.
The FCC has yet to release data about how many consumers have begun, but were unable to complete, the enrollment process. Knowing how many consumers may have applied, but not selected a provider, or vice versa, would make clarifying the remaining steps in the enrollment process easier. Why is this information useful?
NCC has also challenged the FCC’s requirement that consumers applying for the benefit online provide an email address. In effect, this requirement introduces new obstacles for eligible consumers who do not have reliable Internet access from being able to enroll in the program online. Consumers are required to provide a mailing address when applying for the program, which the FCC can use to communicate application updates.
Additionally, public interest allies have highlighted the need for more granular enrollment data. Enrollment data is currently available at the state level. Releasing data from the county or zip code level will help FCC partner organizations tailor their outreach strategies to populations with low adoption rates. Similarly, information about which providers offer connected devices would also be helpful to consumers. Other issues related to enrollment identity verification, provider upselling, and lack of public program data are among shared concerns.
Removing barriers to enrollment is crucial to the success of the EBBP. NCC encourages local officials, community outreach partners, and eligible participants to voice their concerns. Complaint should be filed on the FCC’s website here. We are working to ensure that communities nationwide can connect their residents in need to this much-needed COVID-19 relief program.
Visit Next Century Cities’ Emergency Broadband Benefit page here.