FCC Prepares to Transition Emergency Broadband Benefit Subsidies

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The newly signed infrastructure law will transform how the FCC runs what’s been known as the Emergency Broadband Benefit (EBB) subsidy program. Congress gave the agency $3.2 billion during the pandemic to help offer consumers a $50 monthly benefit to pay their broadband bills. More than 7.5 million households have enrolled since the Commission set up the program a few months ago.

The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act plan intends to make this a longer-term subsidy, slating $14 billion to create a successor known as the Affordable Connectivity Program. The FCC notes that households enrolled in the existing program as of December 31, “will continue to receive their current monthly benefit during a 60-day transition period.” The law calls for a lower monthly benefit of $30 under the new program — a change that FCC Chair Jessica Rosenworcel in September told reporters would be “challenging,” noted Politico.  

But the FCC is preparing to make the necessary changes. The Wireline Competition Bureau issued an Order waiving the Commission’s rules related to enrollment freeze and notice requirements for the end of the current program. A 60-day transition window will open on December 31, 2021, in which the EBB will cease and the Affordable Connectivity Program will begin. 

During the transition, EBB beneficiaries will continue to receive their current benefits. EBB beneficiaries will only need to reverify their eligibility during the window if their enrollment relies upon a substantial loss of income after February 29, 2020, or participation in a service provider’s approved COVID-19 relief program.

The agency is seeking input about how to implement the new program. The first round of comments are due December 8 (to WC Docket Nos. 20-445 and 21-450). “We are mindful of the need for consistency when it comes to this connectivity,” Rosenworcel told reporters following the November 18 monthly Commission meeting.

By Leslie Stimson, Inside Towers Washington Bureau Chief

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