New Emergency Broadband Benefit Fund (EBB) to Bring Internet to Low-Income Families

January 13, 2021

The second federal COVID stimulus law, signed at the end of December, contained $3.2 billion to fund a new “Emergency Broadband Benefit Program” (EBB) — a much-needed initiative that will provide subsidized broadband home Internet access services and low-cost remote devices for low-income families during the pandemic.  EBB will be administered by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), and likely USAC, but is not part of the E-rate program.  The FCC is fast tracking the rule making process, with the final rules required to be adopted by the end of February.

How Will It Work? 
Although the exact details haven’t been finalized, the program is being modeled after the existing federal Lifeline Program (which provides small monthly subsidies to low income families for telephone services) so we have an idea of how EBB will work.  A household that would like the EBB subsidy will contact a participating provider that will then verify the household’s income eligibility to participate and install/turn on service.  The provider will then seek reimbursement from the EBB Administrator.  

What Services Will the EBB Program Cover?  
EBB will reimburse providers for both broadband Internet and connected devices as follows:

Internet:  Broadband providers will receive up to a $50/month reimbursement per low-income household it serves. For example, if the provider’s rate for broadband connectivity is $45/month, they will be reimbursed from EBB for $45 and the family pays $0.  If the monthly Internet service costs $60/month, EBB will reimburse the provider $50/month and the provider can charge the family for the remaining $10/month.  At no point does the family actually receive funds.

Devices: In addition, the providers also can receive reimbursement up to $100 for providing the household with a connected device (desktop, laptop, or tablet computer) if the household contributes $10-$50 for the device.  Only one such device is eligible per household.  The FCC is seeking comment on minimum standards for such devices and is proposing that at a minimum, any connected device eligible for reimbursement must support video conferencing platforms and other software essential to ensure full participation in online learning.

Who is Eligible? 

To qualifying for EBB support, at least one member of the household must meet one of these criteria:

  • Qualifies for the existing federal Lifeline program (which is if their income is 135% or less than the federal poverty guidelines, or if they participate in SNAP, Medicaid, or other federal programs);
  • Receive benefits under the free and reduced price lunch program or the breakfast program;
  • Have experienced a substantial loss of income since February 29, 2020 that is documented by layoff or furlough notice, application for unemployment insurance benefits, or similar documentation;
  • Receive a federal Pell Grant in the current award year; or
  • Meet the eligibility criteria for a participating provider’s existing low-income or COVID–19 broadband internet connectivity program.

Participating providers will verify eligibility using the National Lifeline Verifier Database, through schools (for NSLP program participation verification), or different provider’s eligibility verification process if such process is approved by the FCC.  A household is eligible, regardless of whether it currently receives Lifeline support or has any past or present arrearages with a broadband provider.

When Does EBB Expire?

The program ends 6 months after the date that the COVID-19 emergency has officially ended.  We are hopeful that, if the program proves successful, there will be substantial interest in continuing the program after the COVID emergency ends.

Which Service Providers Can Participate?

Broadband providers – both Eligible Telecom Carriers (ETCs) and non-ETCs — are eligible to participate, but no provider is required to participate.  The FCC will establish an expedited process to have non-ETCs be approved, but if a broadband provider has been providing a low-income broadband program since April 1, 2020, they will be automatically approved.

What is the Role of a School?

Although EBB will not provide funds directly to schools, schools may be asked to verify NSLP eligibility (with certain privacy measures in place), and certainly should let low-income families in their schools know about the availability of the program to maximize participation.  Schools also may wish to reach out to local Internet companies to encourage their early participation in the EBB program.  Further, the State E-rate Coordinators’ Alliance (SECA) is expected to encourage the FCC to permit schools to apply for EBB on behalf of their low-income families to facilitate implementation.

Submitting Comments to the FCC

Should you want to submit comments on the new program to the FCC, such comments are due by January 25, 2021, with reply comments due by February 16.  The FCC’s Public Notice is available at:

If you have any questions about EBB, please let me know and I’ll try to my best to answer.

– Julie

Julie Tritt Schell
Pennsylvania E-rate Coordinator
717-730-7133 – o

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