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FCC Establishes Emergency Broadband Benefit Program

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On Thursday, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) announced that it has formally adopted a Report and Order establishing the $3.2 billion Emergency Broadband Benefit Program, a “federal initiative to provide qualifying households discounts on their internet service bills and an opportunity to receive a discount on a computer or tablet.” The funding for the program was approved by the federal government as part of the $900 billion coronavirus relief package

Specifically, the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program will give eligible households discounts of up to $50 each month for broadband service or up to $75 each month if the household is located on Native American lands. Additionally, the program provides for up to a $100 one-time discount on a computer tablet for eligible households.

The Commission noted that pursuant to the law, eligible households are those which are: participating in existing low-income or pandemic-related relief programs offered by a broadband provider; Lifeline subscribers, Medicaid or SNAP beneficiaries; households with children that receive free and/or reduced-price school meals; Pell grant recipients; and people who have lost their job or experienced reduced income during this past year.

“Today the Federal Communications Commission made history,” Acting FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said in the press release. “It adopted rules for the nation’s largest-ever program to help households nationwide afford broadband service. This $3.2 billion program was designed to lower the cost of high-speed internet service for those struggling to get the connectivity they need during the ongoing pandemic. It’s a challenge that is all too real for too many families. This is a program that will help those at risk of digital disconnection … In short, this program can make a meaningful difference in the lives of people across the country.”

Acting Chairwoman Rosenworcel, Commissioner Starks, and Commissioner Simington each issued a statement approving the order. FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr issued a statement approving and concurring in part with the program. Commissioner Carr stated, “For my part, I am pleased that our decision includes a number of my top priorities. For instance … this decision will help maximize consumer choice, encourage more robust participation in the program, and avoid the consumer confusion that could have resulted from staggered start dates. I also want to thank my colleagues for agreeing to make some significant changes to the draft that circulated earlier this week … while I would have preferred that we prioritize the needs of students, I remain pleased that the program we stand up today will benefit school kids.”

The Commission still has to set up the program for eligible households to participate; Acting Chairwoman Rosenworcel said she “expect(s) it to be open to eligible households within the next 60 days as providers sign up and program systems are put in place.”

The announcement comes after the Commission requested comment on the program in January.

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