NTIA's Model Low-Cost Broadband Service Option
Monday, October 30, 2023
NTIA's Model Low-Cost Broadband Service Option
In the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, Congress requires Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment (BEAD) Program subgrantees (the entities that will build and maintain the new broadband networks) to offer "at least one low-cost broadband service option for eligible subscribers." Congress tasked the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), which oversees the BEAD Program, to define who the eligible subscribers are—and left it to states, territories, and the District of Columbia (known as "Eligible Entities") to define what low-cost broadband service options are.
Defining Eligible Subscriber
NTIA defines “Eligible Subscriber” to mean any household seeking to subscribe to broadband internet access service that (1) qualifies for the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) or any successor program, or (2) is a member of a household that meets any of the following criteria:
- Household income for the most recently completed calendar year was at or below 200 percent of the Federal Poverty Guidelines;
- Any member of the household receives benefits under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Medicaid, Federal Public Housing Assistance, Supplemental Security Income, Veterans and Survivors Pension benefit, or Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children;
- Any member of the household participates in Tribal specific assistance programs, such as Bureau of Indian Affairs General Assistance, Tribal TANF, Tribal Head Start, or Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations;
- Any member of the household has applied for and been approved to receive benefits under the National School Lunch Program or the School Breakfast Program, or at least one member of the household is enrolled in a school or school district that participates in the USDA Community Eligibility Provision;
- Any member of the household received a Federal Pell Grant during the current award year;
- The household meets the eligibility criteria for a participating broadband internet access service provider's existing low-income internet program; or
- The household satisfies any other additional criteria proposed by the Eligible Entity in its Initial Proposal and Final Proposal and approved by the NTIA.
The Low-Cost Broadband Service Option
Although Congress left it to Eligible Entities to define a "Low-Cost Broadband Service Option" that works best for their jurisdiction, NTIA has provided guidance on what the options should look like. In fact, Eligible Entities are strongly encouraged to adopt this example definition of a low-cost broadband service option:
1. The proposed broadband service option:
- Costs $30 per month or less, inclusive of all taxes, fees, and charges if the subscriber does not reside on Tribal Lands, or $75 per month or less, inclusive of all taxes, fees, and charges if the subscriber resides on Tribal Lands, with no additional non-recurring costs or fees to the consumer;
- Allows the end user to apply the Affordable Connectivity Benefit subsidy to the service price;
- Provides the greater of (a) typical download speeds of at least 100 Mbps and typical upload speeds of at least 20 Mbps, or the fastest speeds the infrastructure is capable of if less than 100 Mbps/20 Mbps or (b) any subsequent performance benchmark for fixed terrestrial broadband service established by the Federal Communications Commission;
- Provides typical latency measurements of no more than 100 milliseconds; and
- Is not subject to data caps, surcharges, or usage-based throttling, and is subject only to the same acceptable use policies to which subscribers to all other broadband internet access service plans offered to home subscribers by the participating subgrantee must adhere;
- In the event the provider later offers a low-cost plan with higher speeds downstream and/or upstream, permits Eligible Subscribers that are subscribed to a low-cost broadband service option to upgrade to the new low-cost offering at no cost.
2. Subgrantees are required to participate in the Affordable Connectivity Program or any successor program, and Eligible Subscribers who are eligible for a broadband service subsidy can apply the subsidy to the proposed service option.
In July 2022, FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel proposed to increase the national broadband standard to 100 megabits per second for download and 20 megabits per second for upload, offering a range of evidence supporting this standard, including the requirements for new networks funded by the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. The FCC previously set the broadband standard at 25/3 Mbps in 2015 and has not updated it since. Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel also proposed to set a separate national goal of 1 Gbps/500 Mbps for the future.
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.
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