FCC Issues Emergency Broadband Benefit (EBB) Rules

March 1, 2021

Attached: FCC EBB Fact Sheet

Attached: 2020-2021 CEP Participating Schools

Last Friday, the FCC released their formal Order (FCC 21-29) that establishes rules for the new $3.2 billion Emergency Broadband Benefit (EBB) Program which was included in the December 2020 COVID relief law.  EBB is the new federal program that will provide subsidies for Internet access services and low-cost connected devices for low-income families during the pandemic or until the funds are exhausted.  The FCC has not established a start date for consumer enrollment, but it is expected to be around the end of April.  I encourage all schools to begin providing information about EBB to your low-income families and encourage your local Internet service providers to enroll as EBB Participating Providers.  An FCC Fact Sheet on the EBB Program is attached, with a more in-depth summary below.

The Order generally follows the guidelines established in the COVID relief law, but they have notably expanded eligibility to include any household that has a student attending a CEP school.  A list of the 1167 CEP schools in Pennsylvania, as of March 1, 2021, is attached.

How Will EBB Work? 
Final details on the enrollment process have not been developed.  We expect that consumers will first verify eligibility, either through a federal USAC portal or with a Participating Provider.  If at least one member of the household meets the eligibility requirements, the provider enrolls the household’s current Internet access service in EBB or installs new service if existing service does not exist.  The Participating Provider will provide service, then immediately seek reimbursement from USAC — the EBB Administrator.   When finalized, the enrollment process information will be posted at:  www.fcc.gov/broadbandbenefit.

Who is Eligible For EBB Subsidies? 

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, SSI, Federal Public Housing Assistance, or Veterans and Survivors Pension Benefit);
  • Receives benefits under the NSLP program or the school breakfast program in the 2019 or 2020 school year;
  • Attends a CEP School (Community Eligibility Provision) in the 2019 or 2020 school year;
  • 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, and the household had a total income in 2020 below $99,000 for single filers and $198,000 for joint filers;
  • Received a federal Pell Grant in the current award year; or
  • Meets the eligibility criteria for a participating provider’s existing low-income or COVID–19 broadband Internet connectivity program.

Note:  If a family currently participates in the federal Lifeline program, they will not need to prove eligibility for EBB.  However, they must still opt-in or affirmatively request enrollment in the EBB Program.

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

Internet:  Participating 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 EBB funds.  EBB is limited to one monthly service discount per eligible household.  The service can be standalone broadband or a bundle of services including broadband, telephone, texting, and the rental fee on the equipment that makes the service possible (like modems, routers, and hotspot devices and antennas, if offered as monthly rental costs or part of an existing Internet service offering).  Wi-Fi extenders, repeaters, or any other customer premises equipment that enhances or extends a broadband signal beyond a Participating Provider’s Internet service offering is not eligible.

Devices: In addition, Participating Providers also can receive reimbursement up to $100 for providing the household with a connected device (desktop, laptop, or tablet computer) so long as the household contributes $10-$50 for the device.  Smartphones or ‘phablets’ not eligible.  A connected device is expected to support video conferencing platforms and other software essential to ensure full participation in online learning, should be Wi-Fi enabled, and have video and camera functions.  EBB is limited to one discounted device per household.

Which Service Providers Can Participate?

Any broadband internet access service provider can offer services under EBB, including cable operators, wireless carriers, community-owned networks, electric cooperatives, and municipal governments.  Broadband providers are not required to be or become Eligible Telecom Carriers (ETCs) in order to participate.  Further, no provider is required to participate.  Within the next week, the FCC will announce a timeline for the submission of information by providers seeking to become EBB Participating Providers.   Service providers interested in participating in EBB should register for one of USAC’s upcoming webinars (March 2 and March 4) at:  https://www.usac.org/about/emergency-broadband-benefit-program/webinars-and-trainings/.  Recordings are expected to be available.

Can EBB Be Used for Schools That Are Paying For Home Internet? 

The FCC’s rules appear to not allow EBB to be applied to bulk purchasing arrangements in cases where the household does not pay a fee for the service, either to the Participating Provider or the school, and where the cost is paid by another entity (such as a school or foundation).

What Can Schools Do to Support EBB?

  1. Let low-income families in their schools know about the availability of the program.
  2. Verify NSLP eligibility (with certain privacy measures in place) and/or CEP school attendance if requested by a Participating Provider.
  3. Reach out to local Internet companies to encourage their participation in the EBB program.

How Long Will EBB Funding Last?

The program ends 6 months after the date that the COVID-19 emergency has officially ended, or until funds are exhausted (which is likely before the official pandemic end).   In order to help both Participating Providers and consumers plan, the FCC has directed USAC to develop and publish an online tracker that will show 1) the number of EBB Program households that have been verified as eligible, 2) the number of net new households enrolling into the Program each week; and 3) the total dollar amount of the reimbursement claims approved to date, disaggregated by monthly amounts for Internet access service and associated equipment, as well as connected devices, with historical data remaining so that the public can monitor any trends in the disbursement rates between updates.  The posted information shall be updated at least every two weeks by USAC, with the goal of weekly updates as the EBB Program ramps up.  USAC will also develop a method to forecast when the Fund will be able to pay out reimbursement claims only for another 75 to 90 days.  A soon as USAC has identified when they expect the Fund will be depleted, they will notify providers and the public of the expected exhaustion of the Fund and the month in which USAC expects to pay out final claims.  The goal is to provide at least 60 days’ notice before the end of the Program so Participating Providers can notify their customers.

What Happens After EBB Funds Are Exhausted? 

In order to mitigate ‘bill-shock’ and allow customers to cancel without penalty, the FCC is requiring Participating Providers to inform customers at the time of enrollment and on a monthly basis whether the benefit covers the entire cost of the service, and that the EBB program is a temporary subsidy that reduces the customer’s broadband Internet access service bill and at the conclusion of the benefit, the customer will be subject to the provider’s general rates, terms, and conditions if the customer continues to subscribe to that broadband service.  Once USAC announces a forecasted end of the Program, the provider must provide notice to its customer in a prominent manner on the customer’s bill, information about the last date the EBB subsidy will apply to their bill and the expected rate of the broadband service once the benefit expires.

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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