As digital inclusion advocates and internet service providers (ISPs) across the country prepare for the start of the Emergency Broadband Benefit (EBB), NDIA has gathered resources to assist community based organizations and households navigate the temporary federal program. One of the most frequent questions we get, ‘whether bulk purchasing agreements are eligible under EBB’, this question deserves additional information and context than can be provided in our FAQ page.
A bulk purchase agreement is a contract between an entity such as a school, library, or community-based organization and an ISP. The agreement allows the community entity to pay the ISP directly for residential internet accounts in bulk for their community members. Many community based organizations and community anchor institutions (CAIs) currently have these agreements in place with providers and have asked if EBB funds can fund those existing agreements. Other CAIs and CBOs have asked if they can establish new bulk purchasing agreements with providers to increase enrollment in the EBB program for their community.
In short, the answer to both questions is ‘no’ with a few exceptions.
Community Anchor Institutions (CAis) and community based organizations cannot use EBB funds nor can they act as an aggregator on behalf of those they serve and purchase in bulk under the current EBB guidelines. Eligibility for the EBB requires households to pay a monthly fee for their service. In the case of bulk purchasing agreements, since the households are not the entity directly paying for the internet service in bulk purchasing agreements, the EBB cannot be applied to existing or new bulk purchasing agreements. The FCC’s Report and Order states, “In cases where the household does not pay a fee for the service, either to the provider or a bulk purchaser/aggregator, but the fee is paid by another entity, the service cannot be claimed for EBB Program support.”
There is an exception, however. If the cost is paid by the household, such as when broadband service is included in rent for public housing participants, the subsidy can apply to the bulk purchasing agreement.
Upcoming federal funding may treat bulk purchasing agreements differently, however. The Emergency Connectivity Fund (ECF), a provision of the American Rescue Plan (ARP), promises to allow community anchor institutions to provide devices and connectivity to students by reaching families where they live. By providing $7.171 billion to schools and libraries to secure free broadband service (and connected devices) for students and patrons at their homes, ECF will fill a much needed gap. While still being established, the ECF will possibly allow schools and libraries to leverage bulk purchase agreements to provide families with internet connectivity.