FCC Issues New Guidance for Affordable Connectivity Program

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Local Government Voices Have Been Heard

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has adopted a Report and Order to establish rules for the $14.2 billion Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP). The ACP provides eligible households with discounts of up to $30 a month for broadband services (up to $75 a month if the household is on tribal lands) and a one-time discount of up to $100 on a computer or tablet. In addition, the FCC issued a Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (FNPRM) on how local governments and community partners can partner with the FCC on program outreach.

The program amends and makes more permanent the Emergency Broadband Benefits program, which Congress created in response to COVID-19 and the need for remote work, schooling and health care. Consumers are encouraged to learn more about the ACP at www.fcc.gov/ACP. Customers can sign up for the service by contacting a participating provider, enroll online at https://ACPbenefit.org/, or sign up via mail. Interested parties can obtain additional details and request a mail-in application by calling (833) 511-0311.

Victories for Municipalities
BB&K represented a collection of local governments and local government organizations in the proceeding. We are grateful to the FCC for incorporating many of our requests.

  • The item directs FCC staff to streamline eligibility processes for both households and providers.
  • The FCC reverses its stated intention and preserves Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) as an avenue. The FCC notes that, based on “the record and available data concerning enrollment in schools and school districts participating in the CEP, we are persuaded that the benefits of allowing enrollment in the Affordable Connectivity Program based on a household member’s enrollment in a CEP school continue to outweigh the risks of being potentially over inclusive.” The guidance goes on to affirm that “requiring all households seeking to enroll based on the CEP to demonstrate independent verification could result in grave harm to the program[’s] credibility and momentum.”
  • The FCC reversed its presumption on the need for Social Security numbers and adopts local governments’ request to maintain status quo and the use of alternative documentation.
  • The FCC directs the Universal Service Administrative Company to track and share more detailed information on participants, including developing, consistent with the privacy laws, a process to mask data as necessary.

Disappointing Speed Terms
Despite local governments’ requests, the FCC declined to apply minimum speed service standards for eligibility for ACP subsidies, stating that Congress intended for “any internet service offering” to be eligible for ACP support and that “imposing minimum service standards would contradict the Infrastructure Act and is not statutorily supported.” The FCC does require ACP supported services be able to support broadband services as defined in section 904(a)(8)): fixed or mobile services that permit households to rely on these connections for purposes essential to telework, remote learning and telehealth.

FNPRM Questions
In the FNPRM, the FCC identified several significant questions:

  • Who should be eligible to partner with the FCC in outreach programs and how should that relationship be governed?
  • What is a mechanism with which an eligible household in a high-cost area may receive an enhanced benefit of up to $75 per month?

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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