FCC proposes to fine Q Link Wireless $62M related to ACP

*1/20/23 Correction. The headline of this story has been corrected to say FCC proposes to fine Q Link Wireless $62M related to ACP. The FCC has not actually fined the company to date. In addition, all references to "fraud" have been removed from this story.

Q Link Wireless found itself in hot water with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) this week after the agency accused the operator of claiming more than $20 million in broadband subsidy support. The FCC proposed a fine of $62 million for the alleged misconduct.

The activity in question took place over a roughly four-month period between December 2021 and March 2022. During that time, Q Link allegedly submitted reimbursement requests for devices covered by the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program (EBB) which overstated the cost of those devices.

Specifically, the FCC concluded Q Link Wireless inflated the value of an 8-inch Android Scepter 8 Tablet that was manufactured exclusively for Q Link and provided to program participants. While the claimed and actual valuations were redacted from the FCC’s public notice about the fine, the agency said Q Link claimed reimbursements for the devices “apparently substantially exceeding their market value.”

A blog on Q Link’s website states the Scepter 8 costs $110.

All told, the FCC found Q Link overclaimed support for “hundreds of thousands of computer tablets,” bagging nearly $20.8 million in improper support from the EBB and Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP).

The EBB was launched in May 2021 and offered eligible households up to $50 per month off their broadband bill as well as a one-time discount of up to $100 on an eligible connected device. The $14 billion ACP replaced the EBB at the end of 2021 and since then has offered consumers $30 per month in bill support as well as the $100 device discount.

In addition to the fine, the FCC threatened to remove Q Link from ACP and revoke its commission authorizations, including its Section 214 status which allows it to provide U.S.-international common carrier service. Q Link has 30 days to explain to the FCC why the agency should not do so.

This isn’t the first time alleged problems have been uncovered in the EBB and ACP. The FCC’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) issued a memo in November 2021 flagging instances in which individuals signed up for subsidy support by falsely claiming to have a child enrolled in an eligible school. In September 2022, the OIG warned ISPs were inflating enrollments by using the same child to qualify multiple households for simultaneous support.