New Rules Set Stage for Implementation of FCC’s Affordable Connectivity Program

Last Friday, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) announced the adoption of final rules governing the Affordable Connectivity Program, an off-shoot of the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program (EBB Program), the largest-ever high-speed internet affordability program in the United States. With only one of four Commissioners partly dissenting, the FCC agreed to adopt the $14.2 Affordable Connectivity Program to help those unable to afford broadband service.

By way of background, the EBB Program launched on May 12, 2021 and the agency announced that more than 2 million households had enrolled less than a month later. Last week’s announcement continues down the road of home internet subsidies and the FCC Chair Jessica Rosenworcel’s goal of closing “the digital divide,” the perceived chasm between those citizens with and without high-speed internet, by helping reduce the monthly cost of internet service for qualifying households around the country.

According to the report and order, the new rules maintain the framework of the EBB Program, while making adjustments to account for certain congressional directives in the Infrastructure Act and other changes. Some of those congressional mandates modify and expand qualification criteria. Others will reportedly help the EBB Program transform “from an emergency program designed to respond to a public health crisis to a longer-term broadband affordability program.”

FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr issued a separate statement. While supportive of the initiative, he cautioned about the risk of fund misuse in connection with the multi-billion dollar program. In support of his contention, Carr pointed to a November 2021 Office of the Inspector General (OIG) report examining the use of EBB Program funds.

As one example, his statement highlighted a report finding that a low-income school in Florida was designated by internet providers as the school supporting the enrollment of 1,884 households, even though the school has no more than 200 attendees. “I am worried that the OIG’s report is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to waste, fraud, and abuse in these programs,” his statement said.