FCC Releases Rules to Implement Affordable Connectivity Program

By: Andrew Regitsky

On January 24, 2022, in Docket 21-450, the FCC released a Report and Order and Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) to implement the new Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP). The ACP, which builds upon the Emergency Broadband Benefit (EBB) Program, provides eligible low-income households discounts off the cost of broadband service and connected devices. The ACP exists because Congress made several changes to the EBB Program to transform it from an emergency program designed to respond to Covid to a longer-term broadband affordability program. The ACB appropriates an additional $14.2 billion to the FCC to implement those changes and provide support. Here is a summary of how the ACP will operate. Please note that the actual Order is 177 pages long and contains far more details than we could include here.

Participating Providers

In the EBB Program Congress defined an eligible “participating provider” as either an existing Eligible Telecommunications Carrier (ETC) or a provider approved by the Commission under an “expedited approval process.” This definition will continue in the ACP

The Commission will continue to require all new participating providers to file USAC election notices prior to offering ACP supported services. Accordingly, providers that have participated in the EBB Program and are still in good standing as of December 31, 2021, when the EBB Program ended can continue to participate in the same manner in the ACP without seeking Bureau approval or filing election notices. This includes providers with alternative verification process approvals.

Providers that have not already participated in the EBB Program or been designated as an ETC by a state or the Commission must file for automatic approval or expedited approval from the Commission.

Qualifying Income and Eligibility Programs

A household may qualify for the Affordable Connectivity Program if at least one member of the household:

1.Meets the qualifications for participation in the Lifeline program (with the modification that the qualifying household income threshold is at or below 200 percent of the Federal Poverty Guidelines for a household of that size);

2.Has been approved to receive school lunch benefits under the free and reduced-price lunch program under the Richard B. Russell National School Lunch Act, or the school breakfast program under section 4 of the Child Nutrition Act of 1966;

3.Has received a Federal Pell Grant under section 401 of the Higher Education Act of 1965 in the current award year;

4.Meets the eligibility criteria for a participating provider’s existing low-income program, subject to approval by the Commission and any other requirements deemed by the Commission to be necessary in the public interest;

5.Receives assistance through the WIC Program, established by section 17 of the Child Nutrition Act of 1996.

Enrollment of Eligible Households in the NLAD

The National Lifeline Accountability Database (NLAD) has been used to administer both the Lifeline program and the EBB Program and serves as an important safeguard against duplicate subscribers and limiting service provider reimbursement claims to the actual number of enrolled subscribers. Therefore, all participating service providers must enroll all consumers participating in the Affordable Connectivity Program in the NLAD, regardless of whether the subscriber resides in a state that has opt-out status for the Lifeline program.

Verifying Subscriber Eligibility and Identity

The Commission Act maintains for the ACP the three methods for verifying household eligibility used for the EBB Program: The National Verifier, an approved service provider alternative verification process, or through the school-based eligibility verification.

Household Usage Requirements

The Commission adopts the Lifeline rules for household usage requirements. Therefore, where a provider does not assess or collect a monthly fee from the subscriber for the supported service, the subscriber must use their service at least once every 30 days, and after 30 consecutive days of non-usage, the provider is required to notify the consumer that they will be de-enrolled if they do not cure their Non usage in 15 days. The cure period effectively gives consumers 45 days to use their free to the end-user supported service and is designed to inform subscribers of the consequences of non-usage and give them an opportunity to demonstrate usage to maintain their benefit. Providers are prohibited from claiming support for a subscriber who has not used their service in the last consecutive 30 days unless the subscriber cures their non-usage within 15 days.

Covered Services and Devices

The ACP enables eligible households to receive a discount off the cost of broadband service and certain connected devices, and participating providers to receive a reimbursement for providing such discounts. Participating providers are required to make available a monthly discount off the amount charged for an Internet service offering up to $30.00 a month. However, for households residing on Tribal lands, the monthly discount may be up to $75.00 a month.

Providers must allow an eligible household to apply the Affordable Connectivity Program benefit to any Internet service offering of the participating provider, at the same terms available to households that are not eligible households.

Participating providers, in addition to providing an ACP-supported broadband service to the household, may be reimbursed up to $100 for a connected device delivered to the household, provided that the charge to such eligible household is more than $10 but less than $50 for such connected device. A connected device is defined in the statute as a laptop, desktop computer, or a tablet. No more than one connected device can receive a discount.


The Commission will continue to use the Lifeline Claims Systems to manage the reimbursement process for the Affordable Connectivity Program. Further, it adopts the uniform snapshot date approach for capturing the subscribers enrolled in NLAD on the first of the month that are eligible to be claimed for that month. A uniform snapshot date brings efficiencies to the reimbursement process by restricting support to those eligible subscribers that are enrolled in NLAD on the first of each month.

Publication and Outreach Requirements for Participating Providers

All participating providers must notify all consumers who either subscribe to or renew a subscription to an Internet service offering the Affordable Connectivity Program and how to enroll. The notice must indicate: (1) the eligibility requirements for consumer participation; (2) that the Affordable Connectivity Program is nontransferable and limited to one monthly internet discount and a one-time connected device discount (only if the provider offers ACP discounted devices) per household; (3) how to enroll, such as a customer service phone number or relevant website information; and (4) that the Affordable Connectivity Program is a federal government benefit program operated by the Federal Communications Commission and, if it ends, or when a household is no longer eligible, customers will be subject to the provider’s regular rates, terms, and conditions.

Notice of Proposed Rulemaking

Finally, in a new NPRM in which industry comments are due 30 days after publication in the Federal Register, the Commission seeks comments on structuring an outreach grant program and implementing a mechanism for determining the application of the enhanced benefit for those serving high-cost areas, as to be determined by the National Telecommunications Information Administration (NTIA). The agency also seeks comments on a potential pilot program focused on increasing the awareness and enrollment of eligible households participating in Federal Public Housing Assistance Programs in the Affordable Connectivity Program.