The FCC will start enrolling eligible households in the agency’s Emergency Broadband Benefit (EBB) program on May 12. The program allows eligible households to receive a discount to their monthly broadband bill of up to $50 per month or $75 per month if the household is on a Tribal land. The EBB program also provides a one-time discount of up to $100 on a computer, tablet or other device for qualifying households.
The FCC is moving quickly to get the EBB program up and running. In January the FCC’s Wireline Competition Bureau issued a request for feedback on how to administer the $3.2 billion program that was created by Congress as part of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021. And in late February it established the EBB with a goal of making it available to eligible households within 60 days.
“In less than two weeks, we will have a new way for disconnected Americans to access the internet to carry out their day-to-day life, so they can reach the virtual classroom, take advantage of telehealth, and seek new employment opportunities,” said FCC Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel. “I’m proud of the work we have done to get this program off the ground in record time.”
The wireless industry praised the FCC for moving so quickly. Steve Berry, president and CEO of the Competitive Carriers Association said in a statement: “All Americans, particularly those in rural areas, need and deserve access to critical mobile broadband services and devices, and the Commission’s act is certainly a good step toward closing the digital divide.”
Likewise, Scott Bergmann, SVP of regulatory affairs at CTIA, said: “We commend Acting Chairwoman Rosenworcel and the FCC for expediting the launch of the Emergency Broadband Benefit. The entire wireless industry, including all three nationwide providers and more than 50 regional providers and MVNOs serving 99% of Americans, is working hard to ensure millions of low-income consumers are able to access this important benefit during this challenging time.”
The agency is encouraging approved providers to help spread the word to qualifying households about the program and how to sign up. Details on eligibility and how to apply can be found here. Those that qualify include households that participate in existing low-income or pandemic relief programs offered by a broadband provider, Lifeline subscribers, including those that are on Medicaid or accept SNAP benefits; households with children that receive free and reduced-price school lunches or breakfasts; Pell grant recipients; and those who have lost their jobs and seen their income reduced in the last year.
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AT&T is one approved provider that is being proactive with its EBB plans. The company announced that both Cricket Wireless and AT&T Prepaid have EBB-eligible wireless plans available to new and existing customers beginning in mid-May. Those plans include Cricket Core, which provides free unlimited calls and data, to Cricket Simply Data (for tablets and hotspots) that includes 100 GB of high-speed data for $5 per month. Similar plans are available from AT&T Prepaid including a prepaid data plan that provides unlimited high-speed data, 10 GB of mobile hotspot data, 100GB of cloud storage plus 5G access for $10 per month (with autopay discount).
Cox Communications also have some details about the program on its web site but says to check back on May 12 when the program launches for more information.
The FCC warns that not all broadband providers will offer EBB and it says it will have a list of approved providers available with a search tool that lets you use your zip code or city and state to find local providers. However, at deadline that search tool was not yet available.