FCC Casts Wide Net for EBB Subsidy Players

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Cable broadband operators were continuing to applaud the FCC's Emergency Broadband Benefit program framework--the vote was unanimous--particularly given that the FCC will allow broadband service from both eligible telecommunications carriers (ETCs) and non-ETCs to qualify for the $3.2 billion subsidy.

The FCC released the report and order (R&O) Friday, and explained the decision to cast a wide net.

Also Read: FCC Approves Broadband Subsidy Framework

"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 order said.

The FCC said that interpretation squared with the plain language of the statute--the subsidy was included in the Consolidated Appropriations Act COVID-19 relief bill package last December, that language being the broadband provider is defined as "any "provider of broadband internet access service."

“We commend the FCC's adoption of a thoughtful and balanced framework for the Emergency Broadband Benefit program, an important initiative that will help ensure millions of Americans can use broadband to work and learn from home during the pandemic," said NCTA-The Internet & Television Association. "We will continue working with the FCC and other stakeholders to keep existing broadband customers connected and reach those that have yet to subscribe. Today's action also represents a real accomplishment given the voluminous record and significant time constraints involved. Acting Chair [Jessica] Rosenworcel, her fellow Commissioners, and FCC staff deserve great credit for the open and efficient process that led to this result.”

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The result also included a priority application window for non-ETCs who have not been participating in the Lifeline program on which the subsidy is based, giving them a chance to be on equal footing with ETCs once potential subs start spending their subsidies--up to $50 per month for broadband service ($75 per month on tribal lands) and a one-time $100 device subsidy.

"By allowing non-ETC providers to obtain the necessary administrative approvals prior to the commencement of the program, eligible households will have more choices in the provider they can select to obtain supported broadband service and devices," the R&O said.

Cable broadband operators had said that their vigorous participation likely hinged on not giving ETCs a head start.

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.