The Affordable Connectivity Fund proposed in the Senate infrastructure bill would likely see wider enrollment in comparison with the Emergency Broadband Benefit program, according to a report from S&P Global Market Intelligence.
The trillion-dollar infrastructure bill that passed the Senate earlier this month includes $14.2 billion for the Affordable Connectivity Fund and will become law if also passed by the House and signed into law by President Biden. It would essentially replace the Emergency Broadband Benefit (EBB) program, the current but temporary program designed to help low-income Americans afford broadband during the COVID-19 pandemic.
As the S&P authors note, the EBB is available to households living at 135% of the poverty line and pays $50 a month toward the cost of broadband. The Affordable Connectivity Fund would pay $30 a month toward the cost of broadband but would be available to households living at 200% of the poverty line, making more households eligible for the benefit.
Households currently eligible for the FCC Lifeline program would be eligible for the Affordable Connectivity Fund, making at least 33.2 million households eligible for the proposed fund, the S&P authors note. In comparison, the EBB program had just under 4.7 million enrolled households as of August 15, according to the authors.
Enrollment in the Affordable Connectivity Fund likely would exceed EBB enrollment for another reason as well: Service providers would be required to promote the offering – a requirement that doesn’t exist for the EBB program.
Another important aspect of the proposed affordability fund: Service providers would be required to allow customers to use the benefit toward any broadband plan. As the S&P report notes, “This was not the case under EBBP, and it reportedly led to providers upselling their newest and most expensive plans to customers.”
It’s unclear what impact the Affordable Connectivity Fund would have on existing $10 a month low-income broadband programs from Charter, Comcast and others. But the authors speculate, and I would agree, that providers offering those programs would likely increase speeds or other aspects of the offerings and make them available for $30.
One thing the S&P report didn’t discuss was the impact of the proposed Affordable Connectivity Fund on the FCC Lifeline program. I looked at the Senate infrastructure bill and didn’t see a definitive answer there, either.
But as Blair Levin, nonresident senior fellow at the Metropolitan Policy Program, noted recently, the Senate bill would require the FCC to revamp the Universal Service Fund (USF) to reflect the impact of the various broadband programs included in the bill. And since Lifeline is part of the USF program, it likely would be addressed in that revamp.