Over 1,000 Oklahoma households fraudulently claimed the same four-year-old child who receives Medicaid benefits as a benefit qualifying person (BQP) in order to enroll in the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP), according to a memo released late last week from the FCC Office of the Inspector General (OIG). The memo also cited other examples of apparent ACP fraud in which a BCP was claimed by dozens or even hundreds of households.
The same day that the OIG office issued the memo, the FCC Wireline Competition Bureau issued a public notice outlining the steps it was taking in response to the findings.
The ACP pays up to $30 a month toward the cost of broadband connectivity for low-income households. One way that a household can qualify for the program is if a member of the household participates in a qualifying assistance program. Households claiming a BCP are required to submit the name and identifying information for the person.
As the FCC Wireline Competition Bureau explained in the public notice, “a single BQP cannot be used to quality multiple households for the Affordable Connectivity Program simultaneously.”
The Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC) is the administrator for the ACP and was already aware of the problem with ACP enrollments based on a BCP, according to the public notice. USAC already has development work underway to “strengthen and improve” the verifier system used to enroll ACP participants, the public notice says. The goal is to improve the detection of households that attempt to use the same BQP as another household.
In addition, USAC already has begun to de-enroll households that enrolled in the ACP based on the same BQP and will continue to do so, according to the public notice.
Although the public notice does not address who is responsible for the apparent ACP enrollment fraud, the memo from the OIG office pins the blame on “approximately a dozen” providers of ACP services. The memo also states that “use of this flagrant technique is steady to increasing, particularly for certain providers.”
The memo goes on to say that “we issue this advisory to put providers on notice of this fraudulent conduct” and notes that “[a]s the commission has repeated time and time again, providers are responsible for implementing policies and procedures for ensuring that a household is eligible under program rules.”
Numerous broadband providers – perhaps the vast majority — offer ACP services. And participation in the ACP is a requirement of certain funding programs designed to cover some of the costs of broadband network construction in areas where broadband is not already available.