Emergency Broadband Benefit - $3.5 billion
The December 2020 stimulus bill (Consolidated Appropriations Act) “invests $7 billion to increase access to broadband, including a new Emergency Broadband Benefit to help millions of students, families and unemployed workers afford the broadband they need during the pandemic.” $3.2 billion of these funds will go toward the emergency relief fund (Emergency Broadband Benefit - EBB), a program that will help subsidize the cost of internet service for qualifying households.
What we know so far:
The program includes up to $50 in monthly payments for internet service, paid directly to the internet service provider. The bill states that the benefit is “a monthly discount for an eligible household applied to the actual amount charged to such household, which shall be no more than the standard rate for an Internet service offering and associated equipment, in an amount equal to such amount charged, but not more than $50.” (residents living on Tribal lands qualify for $75 per household subsidy)
Lifeline subscribers are also eligible for the Emergency Broadband Benefit. Participants may receive both benefits, either on the same or different services.
A start date for the program has not yet been announced. The FCC has 60 days from the date the legislation passes to set program rules and processes. ISP participation in the program is voluntary. We have reason to believe that Comcast will participate in the program, since the FCC is to automatically approve any providers that have been operating, since April 1, 2020, a discounted program for verified low-income households (i.e. Comcast Internet Essentials). Consumers could also elect to have Comcast Xfinity internet service. We will update on other provider's participation as it becomes available.
January 4: FCC Public Notice seeking public comment on the EBB. Initial comment deadline is January 25 and reply deadline is February 16. OCT is working closely with the National Digital Inclusion Alliance and National League of Cities to coordinate comments.
Benton Institute published this informative post about the bill and the Public Notice.
If you have outstanding broadband bills, you are still likely eligible to qualify for the benefits program, if your household meets the FCC’s guidelines for the agency’s Lifeline program, is approved for any school breakfast or lunch program, is a Pell Grant recipient, is currently qualified for a low-income internet plan, or if “at least one member of the household has experienced a substantial loss of income* since February 29, 2020”. *you can prove loss of employment with an application for unemployment benefits, as well as a furlough or layoff notice.
Participating ISPs can receive up to $100 reimbursement for a laptop, desktop, computer or tablet. Only one device per household. Participating providers have to certify that the amount for which they are seeking reimbursement is not more than the standard rate, and that each eligible household is charged between $10 and $50 for the device.
USAC will be responsible for conducting audits of the Emergency Broadband Program the program.
Office of Minority Broadband Initiatives - $285 million
The Act also provides $300 million for the creation of the Office of Minority Broadband Initiatives within NTIA to engage in digital inclusion efforts including:
-collaborate with Federal Agencies to facilitate broadband internet service programs and expand them to anchor communities.
-collaborate with State, local, and Tribal governments, historically Black colleges or universities (HBCUs), Tribal Colleges or Universities, Minority-serving institutions, and stakeholders in various fields to support digital inclusion efforts for the recipients’ respective communities.
For more information about the relief bill's broadband and digital inclusion resources, check out NDIA's overview of the relief bill here.