What is it? How Will it Work? Why Should Your Community Weigh-In on This Proceeding?
The goal of the Emergency Broadband Benefit program is to connect low-income households with affordable broadband service and a requisite device during the COVID-19 pandemic. At a time when residents are still required to work, learn, bank, access health care, and connect from the safety of their homes, this subsidy helps to make broadband affordable for households in need.
On January 4, 2021, the Federal Communications Commission issued a public notice seeking comment on the proposals described below. This is an ideal opportunity for local officials and other community leaders who are working to increase broadband connectivity to share insights. Community-level perspectives will help improve implementation and overall effectiveness of the Emergency Broadband Benefit program.
What is the Emergency Broadband Benefit?
The Emergency Broadband Benefit will provide a monthly discount for eligible households, which would be subtracted from the monthly broadband service bill. The subsidy will likely be paid in the form of a reimbursement to participating providers. It is limited to $50.00/month, or $75.00/month in Tribal areas, for service and one connected device per eligible household.
Are Lifeline Subscribers Eligible for the Emergency Broadband Benefit?
Lifeline subscribers are also eligible for the Emergency Broadband Benefit. Participation in one program is not a disqualifier from the other. Participants may receive both benefits, either on the same or different services.
Which Providers Can Participate in the Program?
The FCC is currently soliciting feedback on eligibility requirements. NCC is in support of a wide variety of provider participation – including large and small, private and municipal, electric coops and mesh, etc. – being included in the Emergency Broadband Benefit program. All providers will also have to show plans to combat waste, fraud, and abuse, similar to the compliance requirements in the Lifeline program.
What Are the Proposed Eligibility and Verification Guidelines?
The FCC plans to use the definition of “household” provided in Lifeline rules. The National Lifeline Accountability Database will be used to track enrollment. A household may qualify for the Emergency Broadband Benefit if at least one member of the household:
- is eligible for the Lifeline program;
- has been approved for free and reduced-price lunch;
- has experienced a substantial loss of income since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic on February 29, 2020;
- has received a Federal Pell Grant under section 401 of the Higher Education Act of 1965 in the current award year; or
- meets the eligibility criteria for a participating provider’s existing low-income or COVID-19 program, subject to approval by the Commission and any other requirements deemed by the Commission to be necessary in the public interest.
The program will likely employ the same documentation requirements for participating providers that are currently used in the Lifeline program. Participating providers must verify the eligibility of a household for the Emergency Broadband Benefit by:
- directing applicants to confirm eligibility via the National Verifier and the National Lifeline Accountability Database;
- using free and reduced price lunch program or school breakfast program verification; or
- through the provider’s eligibility verification process that has been approved by the FCC.
Who Will Evaluate Program Implementation?
USAC will be responsible for conducting audits of the Emergency Broadband Program the program. The public comment cycle is an opportune time for local officials to offer specific metrics for success.
Who Should Be Responsible for Promoting the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program?
The FCC needs community-level perspectives on how to publicize the Emergency Broadband Benefit program. What are best practices that providers can use to promote participation for low-income households? Should the Commission or USAC take steps to publicize the program to supplement the outreach of the participating providers? How can barriers to enrolling residents in the Lifeline program inform administration of the Emergency Broadband Benefit program?
NCC has elevated the importance of using targeted media outreach and creating resources for community leaders that help to inform low-income households who have limited access to announcements online. Eligible participants will need access to resources that explain benefits and responsibilities associated with enrollment and administrative support. The FCC should also consider hosting town hall meetings and collaborating on public awareness campaigns with social service entities to educate local and state officials on ways to promote the Emergency Broadband Benefit program.
NCC encourages local officials and community leaders to submit comments on how the FCC could effectively administer the Emergency Broadband Benefit program. The agency is particularly interested in feedback on the questions detailed below.
- Which providers can participate in the program and what do such providers need to do to elect 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 Commission 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 Commission 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?
For information about the comment submission process, members can contact Ryan Johnston, Policy Counsel, Federal Programs. The comment deadline is January 25, 2021. Reply comments are due on February 16, 2021.