FCC Approves $3.2B Emergency Broadband Benefit Framework

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The FCC has voted unanimously to adopt the Emergency Broadband Benefit framework order, which stands up the $3.2 billion subsidy program passed by Congress as part of a December COVID-19 aid package.

The plan is to open up the program to eligible households by April.

As cable broadband providers had called for, the program will be open to ETC's (eligible telecommunications carriers) and non-ETCS.

"This interpretation allows not only for ETCs or non-ETCs like traditional Internet Service Providers (ISPs) including cable providers and wireless Internet service providers, but also permits non-traditional broadband providers like community-owned networks, electric cooperatives, or municipal governments," the item says.

Also Read: ISPs Prepare for Broadband Billions

The program offers up to a $50-per-month subsidy for eligible households (up to $75 on tribal lands) and up to a one-time $100 toward a computer or tablet until the money is expended.

[T]his program can make a meaningful difference in the lives of people across the country. That’s why our work is already underway to get this program up and running, and I expect it to be open to eligible households within the next 60 days as providers sign up and program systems are put in place," said acting chair Jessica Rosenworcel. "I have confidence in our staff that we will do this carefully, swiftly and the right way.” 

“Nearly nine months ago, I joined civil rights leaders in authoring an essay proclaiming: ‘there is a broadband emergency in America,’ particularly in communities of color," said commissioner Geoffrey Starks. "I am proud to approve the rules implementing the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program—the largest COVID-emergency broadband program to date. As I have said many times over the last few weeks, I have great expectations for this program. If we are successful—and we must be—the Emergency Broadband Benefit will reach more disconnected low-income people and households of color than any previous FCC effort to close the digital divide.

Rosenworcel circulated the item for a vote outside the FCC's public meeting.

The framework:

1. "Opens the program to all types of broadband providers;

2. "Requires providers to deliver the qualifying broadband service to eligible households to receive reimbursement from the Program; and

3. "Encourages eligible households to affirmatively indicate their interest in the program.

A household will be eligible if it meets any of the following:

1. Qualifies for the FCC’s Lifeline [low-income subsidy] program;

2. "Receives benefits under the free and reduced-price school lunch program or the school breakfast program;

3. "Experienced a substantial loss of income since February 29, 2020;

4. "Received a Federal Pell Grant; or

5. "Meets the eligibility criteria for a participating providers’ existing low-income or COVID-19 program."

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.