The Emergency Broadband Benefit Program (“EBBP”) will help low-income households afford broadband subscriptions required for telework, distance learning, and telehealth during the COVID-19 pandemic. Next Century Cities met with the offices of Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel and Commissioners Brendan Carr, Geoffrey Starks, and Nathan Simington of the Federal Communications Commission (“FCC” or “Commission”) to discuss implementation rules for the EBBP. 

Our February 5th meeting with Acting Chairwoman Rosenworcel’s office included the following topics:

  • Setting a deadline for providers to apply to the EBBP would help enable participants to identify what service options are available at program launch. However, some providers that are inexperienced with federal programs may qualify for an exception to the original deadline. They could add competitive service options that improve the overall program. 
  • The Commission should be explicit in its public education campaign that Lifeline and EBBP subscribers can participate in both programs concurrently. Participation in one program should not impact the other. 
  • Read the ex parte here

Additionally, law students and faculty supervisors of the Samuelson Law, Technology & Public Policy Clinic, on behalf of NCC, presented information about a community mesh broadband network’s success in San Rafael, California, that is providing internet access for households, many of which will also be eligible for EBBP support. That discussion illustrated how partnerships of city and county agencies, volunteers, and nonprofit organizations could support EBBP program goals. It also expanded on why nontraditional network models should be included in federal broadband affordability programs. View the February 20th meeting ex parte here

Meeting with Commissioner Carr’s office, NCC highlighted the points detailed below:

  • The Commission should collect pricing data as it will increase transparency, improve accountability, and help prevent fraud in the EBBP. 
  • Partnering with schools and other local anchor institutions will give the EBBP higher visibility than if left to the FCC and providers to advertise. Effective promotion of the program is critical to meet the programs goals of connecting as many eligible households as possible. 
  • Read the February 5th meeting ex parte here

The February 5th conversation with Commissioner Starks’ office focused on these issues:

  • Making available information related to which providers are participating, what service levels they intend to provide, and the price for each tier of service will increase public trust in the program. It would also arm municipalities and states with key data about who is and is not participating, evidencing the impact of the EBBP on their communities. 
  • The Commission must use a portion of its administration budget on advertising the program through offline means. Use of radio and public access television as well as more traditional mailings and paper advertising guarantees that more of the eligible population learns about the program and how to apply. 
  • Read the meeting ex parte here

The meeting with the Office of Commissioner Simington included the following topics:

  • Including municipal networks, community mesh networks, and electrical and coops alongside traditional providers would help improve service options and support participation much farther than if only designated ETC or incumbent providers were eligible to participate.
  • The Commission should require providers to make pricing data public (including promotional pricing and fees), allowing consumers to make informed decisions while also reducing potential fraud.
  • Read the February 4th meeting ex parte here

The EBBP was established with the express purpose of providing broadband access to low-income Americans. We hope that the program rules are clear and responsive to current connectivity needs while reducing enrollment barriers for consumers and providers. Local officials and community leaders can sign-up for program updates here.