UPDATE Major telecoms and other industry participants applauded the FCC’s recent vote to quickly advance the $3.2 billion Emergency Broadband Benefit (EBB) program. The effort will help subsidize internet service for low-income households impacted by COVID.
AT&T praised the move to “help close the broadband gap,” while Comcast and Charter said they plan to participate in the program. The Benton Institute called it “a lifeline” that will go far to connect Americans who need COVID vaccines. Trade groups including USTelecom, the Internet & Television Association and the Wireless Internet Service Providers Association also welcomed the action.
Acting FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel anticipates opening the program within 60 days to qualifying homes signed up with participating providers.
What’s next? Some members of Congress want to see the EBB extend beyond the pandemic. “While the EBB will sunset after the end of the coronavirus pandemic, it presents a unique opportunity for the FCC to look at how to address the broadband affordability issue long-term and [start] to think now about the longevity of cost support well beyond this program,” Sens. Angus King (I-ME), Maggie Hassen (D-NH) and Mark Warner (D-VA) wrote in a letter to Rosenworcel.
COVID has further worsened the digital divide, according to the lawmakers. “While Congress continues to work with the FCC and other federal agencies on expanding broadband access to unserved and underserved areas through a number of programs, affordability remains a significant barrier to connectivity for far too many Americans.”
“The ultimate end to the pandemic will not signify the end to the digital divide,” the Senators wrote. “It presents a unique opportunity for the FCC to look at how to address the broadband affordability issue long-term and start to think now about the longevity of cost support well beyond this program.”
“The efforts that we put forth now toward encouraging digital equity must represent a durable, scalable model for future digital equity efforts,” the lawmakers emphasized. Specifically, the Senators highlighted the value of collaborating, with state and community partners, urged the Commission to set the eligibility criteria “as broadly as reasonably possible,” and emphasized the importance of supporting newer or smaller broadband services.
They stressed the importance of making access to the EBB streamlined and accessible – both for providers and households, including subscribers of newer broadband service. “The program will be most successful when eligible households are readily able to participate without overly cumbersome or restrictive requirements,” added the Senators.