LeadingAge Urges FCC to Target Senior Housing Communities for Discount Internet Program

Regulation | December 10, 2021 | by Juliana Bilowich

As the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) transitions between broadband access programs, LeadingAge urged the federal body to specifically target internet access for households receiving federal rental subsidy.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has announced a 60-day transition period from the Emergency Broadband Benefit (EBB), a short-term, pandemic-era discount on internet services and connected devices, to the newly-authorized Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP). Most senior housing communities lack building-wide internet access, and many LeadingAge members made significant efforts to enroll residents into the EBB.

Changes to the Emergency Broadband Benefit

The ACP was authorized by Congress as part of infrastructure legislation in the fall of 2021; unlike the EBB, which provided an internet service discount of up to $50 per month for qualifying households, the updated internet discount program provides a lower monthly internet discount of up to $30 per month, but removes pandemic restrictions that would have caused the discount to end when the public health emergency is no longer extended. This change turns the short-term, emergency-targeted benefit into an established, long-term program to increase digital access.

The discount amount of up to $75 for qualifying tribal households is retained in the ACP; in addition, the new internet program adds a "high-cost area" option for higher discount amounts. 

The EBB also included the option for households to receive a discounted connected device. Few participating internet service providers (ISPs) provided this option to households, but LeadingAge considers device access a critical component of digital inclusion. The ACP retains both the monthly services discount and the one-time device discount.

During the transition, most previous enrollees in the EBB will not have to re-enroll or re-verify their eligibility. The FCC has proposed a 60-day transition period between programs starting December 31, 2021, during which the previous benefit amount will be maintained before being reduced. New enrollees can continue to apply for the EBB before that date and will be carried over to the new program.

Implementation of Changes

In an Order dated December 8, the FCC provided additional guidance on the transition period for legacy enrollees. EBB participants who previously enrolled under a provision that allowed households with substantial income loss due to COVID-19, or through an ISP's existing COVID-19 discount program, will need to re-verify their income eligibility for the program in order to continue receiving the discount after the 60-day transition period. 

The FCC has also directed their implementation body to notify all households enrolled in the EBB program about the upcoming program changes, and to update relevant websites. Internet Services Providers are also expected to communicate the changes to enrollees.

LeadingAge Action to Increase Internet Access for Older Adults

LeadingAge welcomes the overall changes to the EBB, in particular the new long-term nature of the discount, which will remove uncertainty for households considering enrolling in the program. However, additional changes are needed to improve access to the program for HUD-assisted senior housing communities. 

In comments submitted on December 8, LeadingAge called on the FCC to utilize the implementation of the ACP to fix barriers to participation for HUD-assisted households, including lack of data-sharing between HUD and the FCC, no path for automatic eligibility verification for HUD Multifamily tenants, and challenges with bulk internet provision throughout HUD communities utilizing the discount.

LeadingAge will continue to work with HUD and the FCC to increase internet access at senior housing communities; our ACP comments to the FCC are available here. To join LeadingAge's Internet Connectivity Working Group, email jbilowich@leadingage.org.