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FCC: EBB Rules Will Apply to ACP Broadband Subsidy for Interim Period

broadband, lights
(Image credit: Tim Robberts/Getty Images)

The FCC said Thursday (December 30) that it will extend the Emergency Broadband Benefit rules to the new Affordable Connectivity Program, which supplants that COVID-19 emergency broadband subsidy starting December 31.

The Wireline Competition Bureau took that action, saying that between the December 31 launch of the ACP and when the FCC finalizes rules for how to run the program, the EBB rules will govern the ACP, part of what it called a roadmap for navigating between the ACP program launches and the FCC rules to govern it, which are not expected to be finished until mid-January, and not implemented until sometime after that.

Associations representing cable, telecom and wireless ISPs have teamed up to ask the FCC for clarity on that interim period, arguing that without it uncertainty could discourage ISP participation.

"Because Congress established the Affordable Connectivity Program by modifying and extending the EBB Program, we believe it would be reasonable for providers to continue to rely on EBB Program rules until the effective date of new rules to be established for the Affordable Connectivity Program to the extent that those EBB Program rules are consistent with the statutory directives in the Infrastructure Act," the bureau said.

As of December 31, the $50 EBB benefit will be reduced to $30, per the ACP--part of a concession to Republicans by Democrats who worked to secure passage of the infrastructure bill of which ACP is a part.

The FCC is giving broadband providers more flexibility in the plans that will be covered by the $30 subsidy. 

"[B]ecause the Infrastructure Act removes for the Affordable Connectivity Program the restriction that only plans available as of December 1, 2020 are eligible for the monthly benefit, providers will have the flexibility to voluntarily offer service plans in the Affordable Connectivity Program beyond what providers offered in the EBB Program," the bureau pointed out.

Per the bureau road map, providers will not be allowed to use credit checks in deciding to enroll a household in the ACP, though it said it is still considering that provision and may provide clarification or further guidance when it comes out with the new rules.

Also: ISPs Ask FCC Not to Mandate Subsidies on Grandfathered Broadband Plans

And as with the consumer protections in the EBB, during the transition period, "providers must not deny an eligible household the ability to enroll in the Affordable Connectivity Program based on any past or present arrearages, must not require the household to pay an early termination fee if the household enters into a contract for an ACP service and later terminates that contract, and must not subject the household to a mandatory waiting period based on the household having previously received service from that provider." ■

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.