What the FCC Wants to Know About ACP Service

Benton Institute for Broadband & Society

Wednesday, January 4, 2023

Digital Beat

What the FCC Wants to Know About ACP Service

There are nearly 15 million households enrolled in the Affordable Connectivity Program

On November 23, 2022, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) released new rules, as required by the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, establishing the Affordable Connectivity Program Transparency Data Collection, which will collect information related to the price, subscription rates, and plan characteristics of the internet service offerings of Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) participating providers. The FCC believes that the data collection will offer the commission an opportunity to collect detailed data about the services to which ACP households chose to apply the affordable connectivity benefit. The ACP data collection will leverage information required for the broadband consumer labels, helping to create efficiencies and minimize burdens on providers. The data collection is seen as one way for the FCC to measure the performance of the Affordable Connectivity Program. The goals of ACP are to (1) reduce the digital divide for low-income consumers; (2) promote awareness and participation in the program; and (3) ensure efficient and effective administration of the program. Below we take a look at the FCC's new rules.

Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act Requirements

The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act not only transitioned the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program into the longer-term Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP), the law also directs the Federal Communications Commission to establish an annual mandatory collection “of data relating to the price and subscription rates of each internet service offering of a participating provider under the Affordable Connectivity Program ... to which an eligible household subscribes.” Congress directs the FCC to revise the rules of the collection to verify the accuracy of the data submitted no later than 180 days after the final rules are issued, and to make data from the annual collection publicly available in a commonly used electronic format while also protecting personally identifiable information and proprietary information. And Congress also requires the FCC to undertake a rulemaking to implement additional transparency measures which intersect with the ACP Transparency Data Collection. Specifically, the law requires the FCC to rely on the price information displayed on the broadband consumer label for any collection of ACP data.

The Affordable Connectivity Program Transparency Data Collection

We begin with a look at the entities required to submit data, the aggregated data to be collected, the timing of the collection, the publication of data, and other administrative aspects of the ACP Transparency Data Collection.

All providers participating in the Affordable Connectivity Program with enrolled subscribers are required to submit data for the ACP Transparency Data Collection. [Various internet providers, including those offering landline and wireless internet service, are participating in the Affordable Connectivity Program. Find internet service providers offering the benefit in your state or territory.]

The FCC has opted on an aggregate collection; providers will submit to the FCC the number of subscribers for each unique plan for a given geographic area. For the annual aggregate data collection, providers will need to submit: (1) a unique identifier from the broadband label (or another unique identifier generated by the provider in the case that the provider is not required to file a broadband label for a plan, such as a bundled, grandfathered, or legacy plan) for each plan with an enrolled ACP subscriber; (2) total ACP households subscribed to each such plan; and (3) specified plan characteristics associated with each service plan—all aggregated by ZIP code.

Price Information

Broadband providers will submit the same price information as required on the broadband labels; the price to be reported will reflect the amount that a household would pay absent the ACP discount. Providers will use the same format for price information as they use for the broadband labels, including: (1) the base monthly price for the broadband offering (in the case of bundled offerings, can be the total bundled price or separated out bundled price); (2) whether the monthly price is an introductory rate; (3) itemized provider-imposed recurring monthly fees (excluding government taxes or fees); and (4) itemized one-time fees.

Equipment Fees

The FCC believes that pricing information about associated equipment is useful in determining the value provided by the Affordable Connectivity Program. So the FCC is requiring providers to submit information about recurring or one-time modem or router rental fees as part of this collection. And to fully understand the effect associated equipment may have on price, providers must also submit information on whether a plan requires associated equipment and whether any required associated equipment is included in the base monthly price.

Bundles Service

The ACP benefit can be used to lower the monthly cost of a standalone broadband service or a bundle of services including broadband, telephone, texting, and the rental fee on the equipment that makes the service possible (like a modem). In the ACP Transparency Data Collection, providers must submit information about the prices of bundled service offerings. The FCC requires the base monthly price for a bundle to reflect the price for all services in the bundle but the prices for different services within the bundle do not need to be separated out. Providers must also adhere to the requirements for itemization of specific one-time and recurring fees, but providers will not be required to itemize prices for components that are not related to broadband service (e.g., monthly rental for DVR, set-top box, phone charges).

All-In Price Information

To evaluate the ACP's role in closing the digital divide, the FCC wants to gauge ACP subscribers' out-of-pocket expenses for broadband. To help the FCC understand the actual expenses paid by ACP households, broadband providers will have the option of submitting the "all-in" price for service—that is, the actual price that would be paid by the ACP household, absent the application of the affordable connectivity benefit. This price would include the price of any associated equipment, taxes, and fees as well as any non-ACP discounts or promotions offered to the consumer. (With respect to bundled service offerings, the all-in price will be the entire price of the bundled service.)

ACP providers can optionally submit the total number of subscribers paying $0 and the average all-in price for subscribers whose monthly bill is greater than $0, after all discounts and benefits, including the ACP benefit (and Lifeline in cases where ACP subscribers are also using that benefit), have been applied.

Subscription Rate

ACP providers will submit subscription rate information consisting of the total number of ACP households that are subscribed to each service plan with an enrolled ACP subscriber. This data will be aggregated at the ZIP code level where the subscriber resides as of a single snapshot date. Providers will subdivide this data by submitting similar subscribership information for: (1) ACP households also enrolled in the Lifeline program; (2) ACP households that receive the ACP Tribal enhanced benefit; and (3) ACP households that receive the enhanced benefit for high-cost areas.

  • Providers will submit subscription rate information consisting of the number of ACP households that are subscribed to each service plan with an enrolled ACP subscriber who are also enrolled in Lifeline for that plan. As with total subscribership data, this data is to be aggregated by ZIP code. This will allow the FCC to understand the plans and prices that the combined Lifeline and ACP benefits are applied to and help assess whether the combined Lifeline and ACP benefits contribute to any significant difference in plan choices compared to the ACP benefit alone.
  • Similarly, collecting data on ACP Tribal and high-cost enhanced benefits will help the FCC understand which plans and prices these enhanced benefits are applied to and assess whether the enhanced benefit contributes to plans that are of higher, equal, or lower quality compared to the average ACP plan.

Pricing-related Subscription Rates

1. Introductory Pricing Plans

The FCC would like data on introductory pricing plans. The FCC believes that collecting the number of subscribers by plan identifier and ZIP code that are paying introductory rates will help determine the growth rate of the ACP program (and the number of subscribers who may be subject to upcoming price increases and, therefore, may be at risk of dropping out of the program) and help evaluate the performance of the program.  The data should also give the FCC greater insight into the number of new subscribers that each provider has under the Affordable Connectivity Program. The information will assist the FCC in evaluating our progress towards the ACP program goal of reducing the digital divide and understanding whether ACP subscribers are predominantly new subscribers to broadband internet or are using the ACP benefit to subsidize service they previously paid for.

With all this in mind, the FCC is giving providers the option to submit by plan identifier and ZIP code the total number of subscribers that are on introductory pricing plans; the total number of subscribers that paid a set-up or activation fee; and the total number of subscribers that are paying $0 after all discounts and the ACP benefit are applied.

2. Set-up Fees

Set-up fees, particularly in the context of fixed broadband service, can be a barrier to the adoption of broadband service, so the FCC would also like to know how many ACP subscribers have to pay these charges. ACP participating providers have the option to submit the total number of subscribers who are paying set-up fees.

3. $0 Subscribers

The FCc would like to know the total number of subscribers who are paying $0/month after the application of the ACP benefit, and any non-ACP discounts or promotions. Knowing the number of subscribers in a given ZIP code and on a given plan that are fully covered by the ACP benefit will help the FCC understand the value that ACP households are obtaining from the subsidy and the progress the commission is making toward reducing the digital divide. To minimize the burden on providers, the FCC is making the submission of the number of subscribers for whom the net-rate charged is $0 aggregated by ZIP code and plan identifier optional at this time. 

Plan Characteristics

The price of broadband service is determined in part by plan characteristics, including upload and download speeds and data caps. The FCC believes that collection of plan characteristic information—including associated equipment requirements, plan latency, and bundle characteristics—is necessary because such information will allow the commission to contextualize service plan price information and determine the value being provided to eligible households by the Affordable Connectivity Program.

To help the FCC understand ACP household preferences, providers will submit service plan characteristics maximum advertised speeds, bundle characteristics, and associated equipment requirements for each plan with an enrolled ACP subscriber.

1. Speed and Latency

Since broadband speeds influence what internet applications a household can use, they are a key characteristic consumers use to distinguish between service plans. 

Providers will submit data related to the speed of the services to which ACP households subscribe. Speed data will include the actual (i.e., typical) download and upload speed and typical latency data that providers will be required to include on the broadband labels, in addition to advertised speed. The FCC will use the data to understand the value being provided by the affordable connectivity benefit. Providers must also submit typical latency consistent with consumer broadband labels. 

2. Data Caps

Information concerning data caps is critical to allowing consumers and the FCC to determine the value provided by a service plan. Like service plan speed, data caps inherently limit the use of a subscriber’s broadband connection. A low monthly data cap can prevent subscribers from using applications requiring high bandwidth, including, for example, video streaming and remote education applications.

Consistent with the consumer broadband labels, providers must submit information on the number of subscribers who have reached their monthly data cap and the average amounts by which subscribers have exceeded their cap. The FCC will collect information on the charges to subscribers to obtain additional data once the cap has been exceeded. Providers will submit for each plan with at least one subscriber, aggregated at the ZIP code level: the data cap (including de-prioritization and throttling), the number of subscribers who have exceeded the data cap in the previous month, the average amount by which subscribers have exceeded their cap in the previous month as part of the annual aggregate collection of plan characteristic information, and any charges for additional data usages along with the relevant increment (e.g., 1 GB, 500 MB). Providers will be required to report the number of subscribers exceeding the data cap, the average amount by which subscribers exceeded the cap, and the average overage amount paid for the month prior to the snapshot date.

The information about the average overage amount for subscribers on an annual basis will allow the FCC to determine value that subscribers are obtaining from the affordable connectivity benefit, and whether the federal subsidy is covering data cap overage fees or is otherwise helping reduce the digital divide.

For mobile broadband plans, the FCC defines data caps to include data usage restrictions on both pre-paid and post-paid plans. Both throttling (soft caps) and the termination of service if a household exceeds the data allowance impact the ability of consumers to use the service as intended. Mobile consumers view data termination, and throttling and de-prioritization, effectively as a cap on their usage, which impacts their use and enjoyment of the service. So the FCC will collect from providers information on both data caps and data usage restrictions, such as de-prioritization and throttling.

3. Bundles

Identifying whether a service is bundled, and the type of services that are bundled together, is essential for providing context for the service plan information the FCC receives through the ACP Transparency Data Collection. Understanding that households are applying their affordable connectivity benefit to a plan that includes bundled voice and/or video service tells the FCC about the services offered by a provider and how ACP households are taking advantage of the benefit. The affordable connectivity benefit can be applied to the voice and text portions of a bundled service plan, and such information is therefore essential to determining the value the affordable connectivity benefit provides enrolled households. Therefore, providers will identify whether a service is bundled and the type of the bundle (e.g., voice, video), and submit voice or text characteristic information for bundled service offerings, including those services included with mobile broadband. Specifically, providers will submit the total number of voice minutes and the total number of text messages allotted on a monthly basis, or whether a voice or text offering includes unlimited minutes or text messages.

Related Content

For more on broadband transparency, see these articles from 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.

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Kevin Taglang

Kevin Taglang
Executive Editor, Communications-related Headlines
Benton Institute
for Broadband & Society
1041 Ridge Rd, Unit 214
Wilmette, IL 60091
headlines AT benton DOT org

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