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Emergency Broadband Benefit Program – One Time or The Foundation for Something More Permanent?

As part of its $900B, December 2020 stimulus package, Congress allocated $3.2 Billion for the FCC to administer an Emergency Broadband Benefit Fund [Note: the original title has been updated to Emergency Broadband Benefit Program instead of Emergency Broadband Connectivity Fund] to help connect those who are struggling financially. Some of the things that make this temporary program unique are

The FCC worked with amazing speed to come up with a detailed document, which calls for initial and reply comments due on January 25th and February 16th, respectively. The experience of the FCC staffers is shown in the document’s 80+ questions asking how to allocate and account for the funds.

120+ Interesting Responses – Is This the Foundation for Something Permanent?

Ken Pyle wears the Zeiss VR One at the 2015 Augmented World Expo.
What counts as a device? Should routers qualify? VR glasses? Large smartphones?

And the 120+ responses from a diverse set of groups raise many more questions and bring nuance to the discussion. For instance, The American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD) (PDF) believes that the definition of devices should be broad to account for assistive devices, such as those with built-in voice assistants. Others, like Monkeybrains (PDF), want the FCC to include DSL termination equipment and wireless routers as eligible equipment (if voice-assist technology is in the router, then it would meet the AAPD’s device definition).

Others, look at the bigger picture, including the United Spinal Association (PDF), which makes the case for broadband as a substitute for today’s limited transportation system and as a complement to the autonomous mobility networks of tomorrow. An underlying theme in many of the comments is this program is a testing ground of sorts for something that is much different than today’s approach to lifeline broadband and telephony service.

For example, the ITIF explicitly states that the FCC should design the program so that it can transition to something permanent:

Finally, the Commission should design this program so that it could potentially be made a permanent tool to counter economic downturns, should Congress see fit to authorize and fund it.

Verizon and AT&T echo similar messages in recent blog posts arguing for customer-centric broadband support, funded by Congress, instead of user fees.

Big Challenges/Tight Timeline

The challenges for the FCC in implementing this program are many and include:

That challenge falls on the shoulders of the acting FCC Chair, Jessica Rosenworcel. Rosenworcel has wisely convened a roundtable on February 12th to discuss the challenges and opportunities of the program.

With that as background, the above interview with Brian Hurley, ACA Connects’ Vice President Regulatory Affairs, brings additional insight to this complex and fast-moving topic. Hurley crafted ACA Connects’ response to the FCC’s request for comments. As the former Special Counsel for the Competition Policy Division, at the FCC’s Wireline Competition Bureau, he has a unique perspective on the process and this still developing program.

Interview Highlights:


Footnotes

¹ TechFreedom succinctly describes potential negative repercussions for ISPs if the program ends suddenly, “Dumping all of the negative feelings when the money runs out on providers who will have to cut off service will only serve to dissuade many from participating in the first place.” (page 9)

² For instance, The American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD) believes that subsidization of multiple devices per household should be allowed per home since there are often roommates who are disabled. They also suggest that the definition of devices should be broad to account for assistive devices.

³ The Multicultural Media, Telecom and Internet Council, and the National Urban League write, “Additionally, undocumented families should be eligible to receive funding.” … (page 7) the Commission also should explore how to provide services for transient and homeless populations, such as providing wireless broadband (e.g. hotspots).”

One response to “Emergency Broadband Benefit Program – One Time or The Foundation for Something More Permanent?”

  1. […] – Johnson gives his thoughts on the soon-to-be-released, $3.2B FCC Emergency Broadband Benefits Program. He states that an encouraging thing about this program is that it deals with both access to and […]

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