FCC Emergency Broadband Benefit Launch Draws Crowd of Fans

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The FCC's launch of the $3.2 billion Emergency Broadband Benefit (EBB) Program Wednesday (May 12) proved popular inside the Beltway, particularly with Democrats and broadband providers who will benefit from the service boost, though providers were also making the point they have already been providing assistance to low-income households.

The program will give eligible low income households, including those whose income has been lowered by the pandemic, up to $50 per month in broadband service subsidies ($75 in tribal areas) and a one-time $100 device subsidy to help pay for a computer.

Also Read: FCC Emergency Broadband Benefit Program Launches May 12

“High-speed internet service is vital for families to take advantage of today’s health, education, and workplace opportunities," said acting FCC chair Jessica Rosenworcel, "and the discount for laptops and desktop computers will continue to have positive impact even after this temporary discount program wraps up.”

The FCC has not provided a timetable for when that wrap-up might be since it is dependent on how many people apply for the subsidy, suggesting the faster the money goes the more successful the program.

In a joint statement, House Energy & Commerce Committee chairman Frank Doyle (D-N.J.) and Communications Subcommittee chairman Mike Doyle (D-Pa.), who helped created the EBB authorizing legislation, urged their constituents to check and see if they qualify--eligible households include ones with children on subsidized lunch programs, current participants in the FCC's Lifeline low-income subsidy program, and others on government assistance. Also eligible are people whose incomes have been impacted by the pandemic.

“Internet service isn’t a luxury – it’s a necessity like any other utility. This has never been truer than it is now, as hundreds of millions of families across the country are relying on it to telework, attend tele-health appointments, and keep their kids learning in virtual classrooms," the legislators said. "Our economy would fall apart without it, yet right now millions of Americans are struggling to afford it...We encourage anyone who may be struggling to afford internet service to see if they qualify and then contact their internet service provider to apply. We are committed to ensuring Congress continues its work to expand internet access until every American has reliable, affordable service.”

Also Read: FCC Unveils First EBB Participants

“Since the beginning of the pandemic, the wireless industry has taken unprecedented steps to get and keep Americans connected," said CTIA president Meredith Attwell Baker. "CTIA and its members are proud to support the launch of the Emergency Broadband Benefit, with providers serving 99% of Americans participating in this historic program. We applaud Congress for establishing the EBB and acting chair Rosenworcel and the FCC for their work to ensure its swift launch, and we look forward to continuing to work with the Commission to ensure that Americans can continue to rely on wireless services to stay connected to their schools, jobs, doctors and loved ones.”

New America's Open Technology Institute hailed May 12 a "landmark day" for "utility justice," saying the launch of the EBB enrollment would provide digital equity for millions who have suffered through the pandemic without access because they could not afford it. "Today, the federal government is finally doing something to meaningfully address the problem. This is a huge step forward," said OTI deputy director for broadband and competition policy Joshua Stager.

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.