Emergency Broadband Benefit Program Becomes law

By: Andrew Regitsky

On February 25, 2021, the FCC released a Report and Order (Order) in Docket 20-455 making the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program (Program) the law of the land.  The Program provides $3.2 billion to provide household discounts for their high-speed broadband Internet service.  Specifically, the Program provides;

Up to $50/month discount for broadband services for households;

Up to $75/month discount for broadband services for households on Tribal lands; and

A one-time discount of up to $100 for a laptop, desktop computer, or tablet purchased through a participating provider. 

The Benefit is limited to one monthly service discount and one device discount per eligible household.

A household is eligible if one member of the household:

Qualifies for the Lifeline program;

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

Experienced a substantial loss of income since February 29, 2020, and the household had a total income in 2020 below $99,000 for single filers and $198,000 for joint filers; 

Received a Federal Pell Grant in the current award year; or

Meets the eligibility criteria for a participating provider’s existing low-income or COVID-19 program.

Households will be eligible to sign-up for the Program by the end of April.

Telecommunications carriers that elect to participate in the Program must have provided broadband Internet access service to households as of December 1, 2020.  To meet this requirement, Congress defined “participating provider” as either existing Eligible Telecommunications Companies (ETCs) designated by states or providers approved by the FCC under a new expedited approval process.  

To make it easy for carriers to participate, the expedited approval process requires that a provider with an established program as of April 1, 2020, offering broadband services to eligible households, with a verification process sufficient to prevent fraud, waste, and abuse “shall be automatically approved.  Carriers who elect to participate must file notice with the Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC).  The following deadline applies:

Non-ETC Provider Application & Alternative Eligibility Verification Process Portal Opened on March 8th and ends on March 22nd. 

Carriers can now file with USAC to participate.

To reimburse carriers for providing broadband discounts, the Commission will utilize USAC’s Lifeline Claims System.  This is the online filing system hosted by USAC that service providers use to submit claims for reimbursement for service they provide to Lifeline customers.  The disbursement of Program claims will be based on the number of Program subscribers enrolled with a provider in the National Lifeline Accountability Database (NLAD) as of the first of each month. The first of the month will serve as the uniform snapshot date.  The Commission also establishes that NLAD will be used as a tool for reimbursement calculations and duplicate checks in all states, territories and D.C.  

To submit their reimbursement claims for broadband Internet access service provided to eligible households, the FCC requires participating providers to review their snapshot report and validate the eligible households for which they are requesting reimbursement.  The provider shall confirm that the reimbursement amount matches the amount of the monthly service or connected device for which the participating provider is permitted to seek reimbursement and make any corrections to the amount as necessary.  Providers are required to review the snapshot report and to confirm that households receiving a fully subsidized service have used the service during the relevant period.  If a household has not used their service during the relevant period, then the provider shall not submit a reimbursement claim for service provided to that household until the service is used and the non-usage is cured.

Providers will have until the 15th of each month, or the following business day in the event the 15th falls on a weekend or holiday, in which to submit to USAC their reimbursement claims for both service and connected device support for households captured on the snapshot report.

The FCC intends to have the Program up and running within 60 days.  Let’s hope many carriers choose to participate and many more Americans can have access to high-speed broadband Internet service.