The leadership of the House Commerce Committee yesterday put out the call for more ISPs to participate in the Emergency Broadband Benefit (EBB) Program. The Committee fears low public awareness of the $3.2 billion FCC program to provide discounts on internet service and devices to low-income families. Its letter to large ISPs and industry associations representing ISPs, including NTCA - The Rural Broadband Association, NRECA and USTelecom, urges them to promote the program among their memberships.
“While the FCC is working to establish the start date of the program, your member companies can play an important role in its success by proactively raising awareness of the program to their customers and the public, including households likely to be eligible for the EBB Program,” said the letter signed by Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone (D-NJ) and Ranking Member Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA).
EBB, unlike most FCC universal service programs, opens participation to non-Eligible Telecommunications Carriers (ETCs) as well as ISPs that are also established ETCs. Earlier this month, the Commission opened a March 8-22 EBB filing window for non-ETCs’ “application and alternative eligibility verification process.” It also began taking applications for ETC applicants on March 11. So far, according to published reports, the Commission has collected about 200 ISP participants.
“Simply put, the more companies participate in the program, the more we can, together, ensure that all Americans have this crucial connectivity,” the committee said in its letter.
The EBB Program is one of many recent spending initiatives aimed at increasing broadband connectivity, especially rural connectivity, in the wake of the pandemic. The program was one of the focuses of a recent NTCA meeting with FCC staff. NTCA, in an ex parte letter, said it held out “great hope for what the EBB program can achieve, [but] the fact that it is poised to run out of funds within a matter of months provides an early warning sign of the perils of relying upon sporadic and unpredictable appropriations processes to fund national universal service objectives.”
The association connected the issue of rapidly spent EBB funds to the longer-term problems with contributions to other universal service funds.
Update, April 1: The FCC today released a list of 600 ISPs participating in the EBB program. The Commission says that it will add names to the state-by-state list as more join the program. The actual list of ISPs is somewhat shorter than 600 because the names of large providers appear in every state where they operate. The list indicates whether the provider is offering discounts on fixed or mobile service and whether the it is offering discounts on connected devices.