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ISPs Seek ACP Broadband Subsidy Transition Safe Harbor

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(Image credit: Tim Robberts/Getty Images)

Associations representing cable, telecom and wireless ISPs have teamed up to ask the FCC to create a safe harbor for companies that want to enroll eligible consumers in the new Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) subsidy before the FCC has figured out just how to transition from the COVID-19-driven Emergency Broadband Benefit subsidy to ACP under rules not yet hammered out.

The ACP takes effect December 31 and without a grace period between its launch and the FCC's implementing rules, which the FCC indicated won't be adopted until mid-January and probably won't become effective until sometime after that, that uncertainty could discourage ISP participation.

"Unfortunately, the ACP program requirements will not be clear until the Commission addresses key issues identified in the record, including the scope of plans that providers must include in the program and the circumstances in which providers may continue to use credit check inquiries," they told the FCC. "If providers defer enrolling new households in ACP due to this uncertainty, it would have an unfortunate impact on eligible low-income households when the program begins. It also would disadvantage providers that have chosen to participate in EBBP relative to providers that have not done so," they said.

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

They are proposing a safe harbor between December 31 and whenever the ACP rules take effect, during which ISPs would be operating under the old EBB rules, with some modifications. Any ISPs that comply will be deemed in compliance with ACP.

It would require the FCC to defer enforcing statutory requirements, but they point out the FCC has done so before in order to effect an orderly transition to a new regulatory framework." Tying deferred enforcement to the proposed safe harbor would "provide the Commission and consumers with the certainty that providers would continue to follow the established EBBP rules during this deferral period." ■

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.