What Does the New ACP Mean for Households?
By Josh Mimura, fellow, and Amy Huffman, policy director
With the cost of broadband service being a significant barrier to digital equity, NDIA is thrilled Congress extended and amended the Emergency Broadband Benefit (EBB) into the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP).
In addition to the new name, Congress made some important changes to the EBB program. The agency administering the program, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), is in the midst of creating rules for the ACP. This means we don’t yet have the details of the transition, but we thought it important to share with NDIA affiliates and friends what we do know. As we learn more information, we’ll continue to share it with our community.
The first major change is the increase in funding for the program. This increase from $3.2 to $14.2 billion means that the program will continue for several years, maybe more. It’s not permanent yet (and we will keep advocating for it to be made permanent), but knowing it will last for several years should provide more certainty to digital inclusion practitioners and households who were uneasy to adopt EBB due to its temporary nature.
Additionally, there are changes to household enrollment, how the internet service providers will participate in the program, and ways in which the FCC will manage the program.
Changes to Household Benefits and Enrollment
- The maximum benefit will be lowered to $30 per month per qualifying household (formerly $50).
- If a household is enrolled in the EBB program before December 31, 2021, they will continue receiving a $50 benefit for a two-month (60 day) grace period. This means it’s a good idea to help people get signed up now!
- Tribal households will continue receiving a monthly benefit up to $75 dollars.
- The Infrastructure Investment & Jobs Act (IIJA) added two new categories of households that can qualify for ACP:
- Households with combined incomes under 200% of the federal poverty line (increased from 135%).
- Households who receive benefits from the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC).
- The program drops one category through which households qualified for EBB: those that underwent a “substantial loss of income” since February 29, 2020, will no longer qualify as eligible under the ACP.
The IIJA also establishes several ACP requirements and mandates for participating internet service providers:
- Providers must make ALL plans eligible for the ACP.
- Providers cannot require households to submit a credit check to apply for the ACP.
- Providers must advertise the ACP and conduct public awareness campaigns about the program.
- Providers must notify all subscribing customers (EBB and non-EBB) about the existence of the ACP program and how to enroll.
The IIJA calls on the FCC and its subsidiary, USAC (who supports the FCC in managing the EBB) to take several steps in strengthening the ACP.
- The FCC is required to provide an orderly transition for providers and consumers from the EBB to the ACP.
- The FCC must establish a complaint process for ACP participants.
- The FCC will collaborate with federal agencies so that all households participating in programs that qualify them for ACP (ie. WIC, Pell Grants, etc.) are provided information about how to enroll.
- The FCC may conduct outreach efforts to encourage eligible households to enroll in ACP. This includes facilitating consumer research, conducting focus groups, and engaging in paid media campaigns.
- The FCC has the authority to provide grants to outreach partners, such as Community Based Organizations (CBOs). In its rulemaking, the FCC will determine whether it will provide outreach grants and what that process would look like if they do.
- The FCC shall establish rules that protect consumers who participate in the ACP (e.g. protecting consumers from inappropriate upselling or downselling by a participating provider).
Many of the new changes noted above need details. The FCC must release detailed rules for the ACP by January 14, 2022. To create the rules, the FCC released a public notice seeking public comments on how to best promote a smooth transition from the EBB program to the ACP. NDIA and other public interest organizations submitted comments to the FCC on December 8, 2021, urging the FCC take action on several issues, including reverification issues, consumer protections, and opt-in vs. opt-out processes. The FCC will accept reply comments (comments from organizations that respond to comments previously filed by other organizations) until December 28, 2021. Then by January 14, they’ll release the new rules.
The transition from EBB to the ACP will not be a perfectly smooth process, and many of the finer details of the ACP are still undecided.
NDIA encourages our community to continue to enroll participants in the EBB program until December 30, as they will continue receiving a $50 benefit for two months before the benefit decreases to $30. If your organization has the time and capacity, you could consider filing reply comments to the FCC. Specifically, NDIA is advocating for the FCC to conduct outreach efforts.
Also, please continue to stay tuned to the FCC’s communications around the program, it’s likely all aspects of the program will not be perfectly operational by December 31, and some new components of the ACP may take a few months to be fully established.
We’ll continue to update you as we learn more about the program changes and what they mean for you and your work.