The FCC’s Wireline Competition Bureau has issued a request for comments on administering the $3.2 billion Emergency Broadband Benefit Program.
The program was created by Congress in the The Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021. The goal is to help provide low income Americans gain access to the Internet and provide them with devices during the COVID-19 pandemic by reimbursing service providers.
The FCC is looking for input on a wide range of questions, including:
- 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 Emergency Broadband Benefits 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?
Providers must be designated as an eligible telecom carrier or be approved by the FCC to participate. They must provide monthly discounts of as much as $50 on service and equipment. The monthly discount on tribal lands may be as much as $75 per month.
Companies supporting the Emergency Broadband Benefits Program also will be reimbursed for providing eligible households with a laptop, desktop, computer or tablet for use during the emergency. The single reimbursement will be as much as $100 if the charge for the device is more than $10 but less than $50. Households may receive only one supported device.
Congress approved broad COVID-19 relief funding just before Christmas. The package includes $7 billion for broadband. The $3.2 billion of that is for the broadband program. The bill also includes almost $2 billion for replacement of Huawei and ZTE equipment in broadband networks and funding for new broadband maps. Other funding was aimed at Tribal broadband programs, a pilot program around historically black colleges and universities and the FCC’s telehealth program.