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The FCC Needs Local Insights to Ensure that the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program Reaches Low-Income Residents

In December 2020, Congress appropriated $3.2 billion for the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to administer an Emergency Broadband Benefit, a broadband discount program for low-income households to obtain access to service and a device during the COVID-19 pandemic. Eligible households will receive up to $50/month discount, up to $75.00/month in Tribal areas, which will be paid as a reimbursement to participating providers. The FCC is required to solicit public comment before establishing program rules.

Next Century Cities (NCC) and other public interest allies met with Commissioner Geoffrey Starks on January 8, 2021, to discuss proposals. Francella Ochillo, NCC’s Executive Director, expressed the need for providers of all sizes – including municipal and electric coops – need to be included in the program. She also explained why targeted media outreach and partnerships with community-based organizations will be critical for informing low-income households that have limited access to announcements online. Additionally, Francella stated that it is imperative for the FCC to distribute centralized messaging, possibly via town hall meetings with local and state officials, about the Emergency Broadband Benefit. Eligible participants need to understand the benefits and responsibilities associated with the program. Local and state officials will also need to learn about how to help promote participation. Review the meeting ex parte here

Local officials should submit comments on ways for the FCC to 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.

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