Introducing the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program
Saturday, February 27, 2021
Introducing the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program
In its efforts to help people deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, Congress created the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program in late 2020. The Federal Communications Commission will run the program, starting it in Spring 2021. The program offers discounts off of people's monthly internet access bills to help connect households that find it hard to afford broadband service. Households can also get discounts on a laptop, desktop, or tablet computer.
Broadband providers will receive up to $50/month for providing service to low-income households ($75/month if the household is on Tribal Land). Broadband providers pass on that savings to low-income subscribers. If the provider offers and the consumer picks a plan that regularly costs $50/month or less, the consumer will receive that service for free at least up until the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program’s last month of support. 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 a modem).
The government will also give a broadband provider up to $100 if a household purchases one of the provider’s connected devices (laptop, desktop, or tablet computer) for no less than $10 and no more than $50. A household can only buy one of these discounted devices and there is no discount on smartphones. A connected device must be Wi-Fi enabled and support video conferencing.
Who can get the benefit?
The program is set up to help people with low incomes or who have been laid off in the last year. To get the discount, the rules say:
- A household’s income must be at or below 135% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines for a household of that size;
- At least one person in the household must receive benefits from one of the following federal assistance programs: Medicaid, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, Supplemental Security Income, Federal Public Housing Assistance, or Veterans and Survivors Pension Benefit;
- At least one person in the household is in the free and reduced-price lunch program or the school breakfast program (including the Community Eligibility Provision);
- At least one person in the household has been laid off or furloughed since February 29, 2020;
- At least one person in the household has received a Federal Pell Grant in the current award year; or
- At least one person in the household can participate in their broadband provider’s existing low-income or COVID–19 program.
- If a household is located on Tribal lands, it is eligible if at least one person in the household participates in Bureau of Indian Affairs general assistance, Tribally administered Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, Head Start (only those households meeting its income qualifying standard), or the Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations.
Anyone who already participates in the FCC’s Lifeline program will not need to apply for the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program or provide any new documents to prove they are eligible. They simply must opt-in to a plan provided by their current broadband company or request enrollment in the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program. Similar to the new program, Lifeline lowers the monthly costs of phone and internet services for low-income people, but only by $9.25/month. Currently, most Lifeline participants use the discount on monthly wireless bills. Lifeline subscribers can keep their current benefits and also add a plan, wired or wireless, that is offered through the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program.
People who are not currently in Lifeline must apply for the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program through the National Lifeline Verifier, which is currently required to enroll in the FCC’s Lifeline benefit program. People can apply online or via mail. The consumer needs to provide the following information:
- Full legal name,
- Date of birth,
- Home address, and the
- Last 4 digits of their Social Security Number, Tribal identification number, a government-issued ID, passport, driver’s license, or Individual Taxpayer Identification Number documentation.
People can apply online by going to CheckLifeline.org and creating an account. They may find out if they qualify for the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program through the website immediately after applying online. If the National Verifier cannot prove their eligibility automatically, they will need to upload more documents. A broadband provider can help with the application. [Find more information at https://www.lifelinesupport.org/national-verifier/]
Past problems with broadband bills? People can still get the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program discount if they owe a provider money. And there's no waiting period to start service after you qualify for the program. You can end service without a termination fee.
Who can provide service?
Just about any broadband internet access service provider can offer Emergency Broadband Benefit Program supported services including telephone companies, cable operators, wireless carriers, community-owned networks, electric cooperatives, and municipal governments.
If a broadband provider already participates in a federal assistance program, like Lifeline, they just need to tell the FCC that they also want to participate in the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program. Other providers can still participate, but they have to apply to do so. For providers that already offer their own programs or that participated in the FCC’s Keep Americans Connected Pledge, to help low-income households or people during COVID, their application will be approved automatically.
The providers need to tell the FCC where they will provide service, whether they plan to offer discounted devices, a description of the internet services they plan to offer, and how much they usually charge people for those services.
The FCC created a fact sheet for consumers at https://docs.fcc.gov/public/attachments/DOC-370355A1.pdf
What the providers need to do
To get Emergency Broadband Benefit Program support, the broadband providers must agree to let low-income people know about the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program in easily understood language, including languages other than English if they are the dominant languages of the communities the provider serves. The information the provider shares must include:
- The eligibility requirements for consumer participation;
- That the Emergency Broadband Benefit is non-transferable and is limited to one discount per household;
- Any charges to the customer;
- The available upload/download speeds and data caps for the covered services, and a list of connected devices that are available, if any, with descriptions;
- The provider’s customer service telephone number prominently displayed on all promotional materials and adequately staffed by customer service representatives; and
- The name of the provider on all materials describing the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program, including all print, audio, video, and web materials used to describe or enroll in the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program.
The provider must make clear that the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program is a temporary emergency federal government benefit program operated by the Federal Communications Commission and, upon its conclusion, customers will be subject to the provider’s regular rates, terms, and conditions.
To verify that a household qualifies to participate, the broadband provider must:
- Check the National Lifeline Eligibility Verifier, an electronic system in place to determine consumer eligibility for the FCC’s Lifeline program and now the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program, too;
- Have its own FCC-approved verification process; or
- Check with a school to confirm that a student participates in the free and reduced-price lunch program or the school breakfast program (including the Community Eligibility Provision).
More information for broadband providers will be available from the Universal Service Administrative Co. at https://www.usac.org/about/emergency-broadband-benefit-program/
The FCC published its rules for the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program but is still working to get the program up and running. The FCC expects the Emergency Broadband Benefit program to be open to eligible households before the end of April 2021. For updates from the FCC, see www.fcc.gov/broadbandbenefit
Providers have time to decide if and how they will participate. If a household can qualify for Lifeline but hasn’t yet applied, it can do so at any time.
Keep in mind that Emergency Broadband Benefit Program is temporary, with a limited amount of funding. It is meant to last no longer than 6 months after the COVID emergency. Households that get Emergency Broadband Benefit Program services will get notified before the program ends and will be able to cancel service (without a fee) before receiving any increases in their bill.
Kevin Taglang is the Executive Editor at the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society
The Benton Institute for Broadband & Society is a non-profit organization dedicated to ensuring that all people in the U.S. have access to competitive, High-Performance Broadband regardless of where they live or who they are. We believe communication policy - rooted in the values of access, equity, and diversity - has the power to deliver new opportunities and strengthen communities.
© Benton Institute for Broadband & Society 2021. Redistribution of this email publication - both internally and externally - is encouraged if it includes this copyright statement.
For subscribe/unsubscribe info, please email headlinesATbentonDOTorg