Acting FCC Chairman Rosenworcel has circulated a Report and Order for the $3.2 Billion emergency broadband program. The tentative rules make very clear that the EBB is “open to all types of broadband providers, not only those designated as eligible telecommunications carriers.” The question of whether non-ETCs would be included was a major point of discussion in recent comments and replies.
In addition to inclusion of all providers, the Report and Order requires them to deliver the qualifying broadband services to eligible households in order to receive reimbursement from the program, while encouraging eligible households to indicate their affirmative interest in the program.
The FCC further proposed that households would be eligible when a member qualifies for its Lifeline Program; receives benefits under its free and/or reduced-price school lunch and breakfast plans; experienced a substantial loss of income since February 29, 2020; received a federal Pell Grant; or meets eligibility criteria for a participating providers’ existing low income or COVID-19 programs.
Opening this program to non-ETCs – providers that are not subject to Universal Service rules – may seem somewhat unfair. But we are trying to close the digital divide at the very time that COVID-19 is ravaging much of the country, and especially the very poorest and underserved among us.
Desperate times often call for desperate measures.