Monday, Acting FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel circulated to her colleagues for a vote, a Report and Order that, if adopted, would establish the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program. The $3.2 billion federal initiative would provide qualifying households discounts on their internet service bills and an opportunity to receive a discount on a computer or tablet.
“From work to healthcare to education, [the pandemic] has made it clear that without an internet connection, too many households are locked out of modern life. It’s more apparent than ever that broadband is no longer nice-to-have. It’s need-to-have,” said Rosenworcel. “But across the country, there are those struggling to afford this critical service. No one should have to choose between paying their internet bill or paying to put food on the table. With the help of the Emergency Broadband Benefit, we have a new way for households to access virtual learning, for patients to connect to telehealth providers, and for those struggling in this pandemic to learn new online skills and seek their next job.” Continue Reading
The Emergency Broadband Benefit Program was created by Congress in the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021. Through the program, eligible households may receive a discount on the cost of broadband service (up to $50 per month and, on tribal lands, the monthly discount may be up to $75 per month) and certain connected devices during an emergency period relating to the COVID-19 pandemic. Providers can be reimbursed for such discounts.
The proposed Emergency Broadband Benefit Program Report and Order:
- Opens the program to all types of broadband providers;
- Requires providers to deliver the qualifying broadband service to eligible households to receive reimbursement from the Program; and
- Encourages eligible households to affirmatively indicate their interest in the program.
Households are eligible when a member of the household:
- Qualifies for the FCC’s Lifeline program;
- Receives benefits under the free and reduced-price school lunch program or the school breakfast program;
- Experienced a substantial loss of income since February 29, 2020;
- Received a Federal Pell Grant; or
- Meets the eligibility criteria for a participating providers’ existing low-income or COVID-19 program.
The next step in that process is for the Commissioners to consider the program structure and rules and then vote. Once that is complete, the law requires the agency to review requests from interested providers who want to participate. The Commission will also continue to develop the system it will use to administer the program.