FCC Orders Data Collection for Affordable Connectivity Program

By: Andrew Regitsky

In a Fourth Report and Order (Order) and Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (Notice) released November 23, 2022, in Docket 21-450, the FCC created the Affordable Connectivity Program Transparency Data Collection, a Congressionally mandated annual data collection describing all the Internet service plans subscribed to by households enrolled in the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP). Carriers are required to provide this data under the 2021 Federal Infrastructure Jobs and Investment Act. For each plan they offer they must submit plan characteristics including speed, latency, and bundle characteristics, and a unique identifier associated with a broadband label if applicable, as well as certain aggregated plan enrollment subscriber data.

FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel described the goal of the ACP data collection:

To find out whether this program is working as Congress intended, we need to know who is participating, and how they are using the benefit. So, we’re doing just that. The data we collect will help us know where we are, and where we need to go. We’re also standardizing the way we collect data and looking for other ways to paint a fuller picture of how many eligible households are participating in the ACP. We want all eligible households to know about this important benefit for affordable internet service. (FCC News Release, November 23, 2022).

Here are more details of the data carriers must provide.

All providers participating in the Affordable Connectivity Program with enrolled subscribers are required to submit data for the ACP Transparency Data Collection

The Commission rejects subscriber-level data as too burdensome. Therefore, only aggregate data is required.

For the annual aggregate data collection, carriers will need to provide: (1) a unique identifier from the broadband label (or another unique identifier generated by the provider in the case that the provider is not required to file a broadband label for a plan, such as a bundled, grandfathered, or legacy plan) for each plan with an enrolled ACP subscriber; (2) total ACP households subscribed to each such plan; and (3) specified plan characteristics associated with each service plan—all aggregated by ZIP code.

Carriers must submit information about recurring or one-time modem or router rental fees as part of this collection.

They must also submit information about the prices of their bundled service offerings.

In addition to collecting the total number of ACP households subscribed to each service plan with an enrolled ACP subscriber by ZIP code, the agency requires providers to subdivide this data by submitting similar subscribership information for: (1) ACP households also enrolled in the Commission’s Lifeline program; (2) ACP households that receive the ACP Tribal enhanced benefit; and (3) ACP households that receive the enhanced benefit for high-cost areas.

In addition to the pricing information on broadband labels, the Commision requires providers to submit the additional plan information found on these labels. It will also collect information not included on the broadband labels; specifically, maximum advertised speeds, bundle characteristics, and associated equipment requirements for each plan with an enrolled ACP subscriber. Providers will be required to submit this information for all plans with ACP subscribers; however, some of the fields on a broadband label may not be applicable to legacy plans and will be optional.

The FCC plans on using information in the ACP Transparency Data Collection for evaluating the performance of the Affordable Connectivity Program in achieving the goals set in the ACP Order. Its goals include (1) reducing the digital divide for low-income consumers; (2) promoting awareness and participation in the Affordable Connectivity Program; and (3) ensuring efficient and effective administration of the Affordable Connectivity Program.

The Commission delegates to its Wireline Bureau the authority to establish a reasonable data submission date for the inaugural collection of ACP data, which will be no earlier than ninety (90) days after it announces that OMB has completed any review that the Bureau determines is required under the Paperwork Reduction Act. It directs the Bureau to consider other ACP deadlines or significant dates when setting the data submission date to minimize burdens on providers. The Bureau will also establish a reasonable annual snapshot date or reference date for the submission of data.

In the Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, the Commission seeks additional comments on: (1) the statutory requirement to revise ACP Transparency Data Collection rules; (2) the value of subscriber level data and methods of obtaining

and encouraging subscriber consent; and (3) whether it should also collect additional data, such as more granular aggregated data, data related to enrollment processes, the digital divide, price, or plan availability or performance. Regarding the digital divide, the Notice seeks comment on whether the Commission should collect information including whether an ACP subscriber is a first-time or existing broadband subscriber or is subscribed to multiple plans. In addition, the Notice seeks comments on collecting information related to providers’ low-income broadband plan and connected device offerings.