As of December 30, 2021, the federal Emergency Broadband Benefit (EBB) will end and begin officially transitioning to the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP). This transition will expand the eligibility requirements and extend the life of the benefit. Administered by the Universal Service Administration Company (USAC), this legislation will still provide a monthly subsidy and funds toward a connected device. There are also provisions for public notification, coordination, data sharing, and built-in consumer protections. Let’s break it down.
The previous EBB provided $50 per month to homes to spend on a broadband internet connection and $100 for use toward a connected device, excluding cell phones. This benefit was $75 for households on qualified Tribal lands. Under the new ACP, benefits are as follows for eligible households:
- $30/month discount toward internet service
- $75/month discount toward internet service for those on qualifying tribal lands
- One time, up to $100 discount toward connected devices, excluding cell phones
Though the dollar amount for the benefit has decreased, $30 is ample to cover the affordable broadband options available through most service providers.
One of the most promising additions to the program is that the EBB only allowed for certain plans chosen by the provider, but under the ACP, the consumer can select any internet service plan from a participating provider.
Eligibility has been expanded under the ACP. Under the previous EBB, households had to be at or below 135% of the federal poverty guidelines. They could also demonstrate eligibility by any one of the following:
- Participation in government assistance programs (such as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance (SNAP), Medicaid, Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Federal Public Housing Assistance, Veterans Pension and Survivors Benefit)
- Participation in Free and Reduced-Price School Meal program,
- Receipt of a Federal Pell Grant during the current year, or
- Demonstration of loss of income post-February 29, 2020.
Under the expanded ACP, households must fall at or below 200% of the federal poverty guidelines. In addition, the provision for loss of income has been removed, but participation in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) has been added. One member of the household must meet one of the criteria to qualify for the ACP.
Consumers who were previously enrolled in the EBB can continue to receive their existing benefits for an additional 60 days after the close of the program on December 30, 2021. Re-verification is required to participate in ACP for those who qualified for the EBB under the “substantial loss of income” stipulation as this criterion no longer qualifies a household for the benefit. Those consumers must qualify through one of the other conditions for ACP no later than the March 1, 2022 transition deadline in order to continue receiving benefits.
AWARENESS & ENROLLMENT
There are also added stipulations for providers (ISP’s) in this legislation with regards to public notification. Providers must conduct awareness campaigns to notify the public about their participation in the ACP and highlight the benefits of broadband internet access.
Under this legislation, the FCC must work with other federal agencies such as the Departments of Agriculture, Education, and Health and Human Services to disseminate information about the ACP and enrollment guidance to participants in their programs. These agencies must also coordinate with the USAC to share data with the online National Lifeline Verifier. This will assist with streamlining eligibility for the ACP by allowing users to sign up directly and help to address any eligibility issues due to documentation errors.
The FCC will also issue rules for consumer protection. Rules will cover ensuring that providers do not upsell or down-sell services, restrict consumers from changing internet service providers or offerings, insist that consumers enter extended contracts to participate in the ACP, or require consumers to get a credit check to receive the benefit.
THE BOTTOM LINE
18 million American households have access to the Internet but can’t afford to connect. Take action to inform eligible households about the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) and the changes to federal broadband benefits in 2022.
Learn more about federal broadband benefits and get support with an Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) application can also download our Quick Guide to the EBB and ACP