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FF Launching New Affordable Connectivity Program For Internet

With the Emergency Broadband Benefit due to end on December 31, 2021, the Federal Communications Commission established a committee to implement the Affordable Connectivity Program as soon as the infrastructure bill went into effect. While the new program is not yet finalized, the FCC has put guidelines in place that will allow participants to continue receiving the benefit in January and beyond.

Emergency Broadband Benefit

The EBB is an FCC program implemented to help American households afford internet access during the COVID-19 pandemic. Through the EBB, most eligible participants can have their Internet bill offset by $50, which means that free internet for participants was possible in many cases. The EBB was established with more than $3 billion in funding, and the program was designed to end either when the funding ran out or the pandemic was no longer deemed a public health emergency by order, which as of this writing is December 31, 2021. Funding is not slated to run out prior to this end date.

Affordable Connectivity Program

The ACP is a new long-term $14 billion program. It was created as part of the new infrastructure bill and designed to replace the EBB, which was set to come to an end. While the infrastructure bill established the ACP, it did so only in a broad sense. The FCC therefore had to initiate a rulemaking proceeding through which it could implement an immediate transition process from the EBB to the ACP and through which it could define the new program for long-term purposes. As of this writing, the transition process is in place, and while some program rules are in place, there are many that remain to be finalized.

Benefit Reduced From $50 to $30

The biggest change to note is that the benefit for most participants has been reduced from $50 to $30 a month. With the EBB, most if not all participants were also eligible for a $9.25 a month benefit from the Lifeline program. That additional benefit will still be available. It can be combined with the ACP benefit toward home internet or can be used toward a wired or wireless phone plan. Note that anyone currently enrolled in the EBB will continue to get a $50 benefit until March 2022.

Providers Must Offer Benefit on All Plans

Another big change is that internet service providers like  Dish Network Internet are no longer are allowed to offer EBB-specific—or ACP-specific as the case may be—Internet plans. In other words, an ISP must allow you to put your EBB benefit toward any plan that it offers. There are some details to be hashed out on this front, such as how to handle special promotions in addition to unique deals negotiated by a customer with an ISP.

The FCC had ISPs handle the EBB at the end-user level. This made rollout of the program in a short period of time practical, but this approach was not without its shortcomings. A number of ISPs used the EBB to their benefit to void grandfathered plans and to funnel customers into more expensive plans that would cost the government more and eventually cost the clients more. This change does not undo all of those wrongs, but it does stop companies like Verizon from exploiting the program in the future.

Final Thoughts

The are many other proposals on the table and thus numerous other possible updates. Most of these will affect the ISPs and not the participants. If you are currently enrolled in the EBB, you do not have to reapply. You will automatically be enrolled in the ACP. Be aware, however, that by March 2022, there may be changes to what you need to do each on a recurring basis in order to remain enrolled.

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