FCC Adopts Guidelines for Emergency Broadband Program

Regulation | March 01, 2021 | by Linda Couch

On February 25, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) adopted a “report and order,” the FCC’s version of a regulation, to establish program guidelines for the new Emergency Broadband Benefit Program (EBBP) authorized by Congress on December 27.

On February 25, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) adopted a “report and order,” the FCC’s version of a regulation, to establish program guidelines for the new Emergency Broadband Benefit Program (EBBP) authorized by Congress on December 27.

Congress has provided $3.2 billion for the EBBP program. EBBP is 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 program will provide up to $50 a month to low income households and up to $75 a month to households on Native American land for broadband service during the public health emergency. The EBBP will also provide a one-time discount of up to $100 on a computer or tablet for eligible homes.

On January 25, LeadingAge submitted comments to the FCC as it began developing the EBBP. To reduce barriers to participation, LeadingAge had requested that affordable housing communities be deemed eligible for the program automatically based on recieving federal rental assistance, and even urged the FCC to coordinated with HUD to provide community-wide eligibililty that HUD multifamily housing residents could opt into. While the FCC did not expand eligibility for the benefit program, federally-assisted multifamily households should still be eligible through other criteria. 

Households are eligible for EBBP when a member of the household:

  • Qualifies for the FCC’s Lifeline program (see below);
  • 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;
  • Received a Federal Pell Grant; or
  • Meets the eligibility criteria for a participating providers’ existing low income or COVID-19 program.

Someone can qualify for the Lifeline program:

  1. If their income is 135% or less than the federal poverty guidelines, based on household size and state.
  2. If they participate in one of the following government programs, they qualify for Lifeline:
  • Federal Public Housing Assistance (FPHA). LeadingAge senior housing provider members participating in HUD's multifamily housing programs (as opposed to Public Housing) have reported experiencing participation barriers. 
  • Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
  • Medicaid.
  • Supplemental Security Income (SSI).
  • Veterans Pension or Survivors Pension.
  • Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) General Assistance.
  • Tribally-Administered Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF).
  • Tribal head Start.
  • Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations.

In a statement, Jessica Rosenworcel, the acting chairwoman of the FCC, said the program will be available within 60 days. The agency still needs to sign up willing internet service providers and set up a program to approve and track recipients. The quick adoption of program guidelines is a hopeful sign that the FCC will meet its 60 days timeline. The FCC’s press release from February 25 can be found here, and more info about the broadband program is available at fcc.gov/broadbandbenefit.