Press Release Tech Policy in the Pandemic Rural Broadband Access

Public Knowledge Celebrates FCC Action To Connect the Vulnerable With New $50 Broadband Subsidy

February 26, 2021 , , , , , ,
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Yesterday, the Federal Communications Commission voted on circulation to approve a Report and Order to establish the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program, a $3.2 billion federal initiative to provide qualifying households discounts on their internet service bills and an opportunity to receive a discount on a computer, laptop, or tablet. The program created by Congress subsidizes broadband and device payments for low-income consumers or families hit hard by the pandemic, including students and the unemployed.

The program follows several months of advocacy from Public Knowledge, including an early proposal for an emergency broadband subsidy by Senior Vice President Harold Feld; letters encouraging Congress to pass a subsidy; and a letter urging the FCC to make it easy for anyone who needs help getting connected to apply for the subsidy program. Public Knowledge applauds Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel for launching the program with the speed and agility that this national emergency requires, maximizing the program’s consumer benefits during a time when no American can afford to be left without a broadband connection.

The following can be attributed to Jenna Leventoff, Senior Policy Counsel at Public Knowledge:

“After living through both a pandemic forcing us to stay home as well as a recession forcing many to choose between their broadband service or feeding their families, yesterday’s rules bring those in need one step closer to affordable connectivity during this crisis by implementing a $50 broadband subsidy program for those experiencing financial pain. Schoolchildren shouldn’t have to go to McDonald’s for Wi-Fi to do homework.

“We applaud the FCC for directing the Universal Service Administrative Company to enter into computer matching agreements with relevant government entities in order to allow for automatic verification of consumer eligibility ‘wherever possible.’ We appreciate that the agency recognizes that such agreements will enable more people to more quickly obtain support. We urge all relevant government entities to promptly enter into computer matching agreements to verify eligibility for the program.

“We also appreciate the Commission’s recognition that not every household is a single family home. The flexibility to allow support for those who live in nursing homes, dormitories, or other group settings to qualify as households will help reach more low-income families, including Black, Latinx, and Indigenous peoples.

“The nightmare may not be over, but this subsidy should provide some light at the end of the tunnel for low-income consumers bearing the brunt of this recession. We look forward to the FCC setting up the application process over the next 60 days to help consumers get the broadband relief they so desperately need. We also urge Congress and the FCC to create a $50 long-term subsidy that increases periodically to connect low-income consumers, for as the pandemic has shown, broadband is an essential service for us all.”

You may view our recent letter urging Congress to provide broadband subsidies for consumers during the pandemic, as well as our letter urging the FCC to adopt self-certification to determine consumer eligibility for the EBB program, for more information. You may also view our blog post, “Want to Keep America Home? Give Everyone Free Basic Broadband,” to learn about an early proposal to offer a $50 broadband subsidy at the start of the pandemic as outlined by Senior Vice President Harold Feld.

Editor’s note: The original statement commented on the FCC’s decision to allow consumers to “self-certify” for the program. Due to self-certification not currently being a part of the EBB approval process, this content has been removed.