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Strong Demand for Emergency Broadband Benefit Means All Funds Will Be Spent



March 15, 2021 – Demand for the $3.2 billion Emergency Broadband Benefit program of is likely to strong, said Jodie Griffin, deputy division chief in the Federal Communications Commission’s Wireline Competition Bureau at, said during Wednesday’s Broadband Breakfast Live event.

Griffin said she saw the program’s funds being spent in one of two ways: First, by six months after the Secretary of Health and Human Services declares the COVID-19 pandemic over. Alternatively, when all $3.2 billion of the funds appropriated by Congress have been spent. Griffin said she saw the latter reason being the likely path of the program’s future.

The program’s outreach to all broadband providers — who will receive a reimbursement for providing $50 and $75 subsidies and a one-time discount of up to $100 for the purchase of a device – was praised by Griffin and other panel experts during the Broadband Breakfast Live Online event.

Brian Hurley, vice president of regulatory affairs at America’s Communications Association, said Congress made a wise decision in allowing all providers to participate, including providers that don’t carry telecommunications carrier status, so that the funds reach the largest number of Americans.

The FCC adopted rules for the program in late February and plans to launch the program 60 days after that, which lands somewhere in late April.

The EBB is a continuation and replenishment of funds at a higher level of support than has traditionally been available through the Lifeline program.

On February 24, the FCC released a waiver that would allow additional time for low-income consumers to continue having access to needed communications services for telemedicine, telework, and online learning during the ongoing COVID-10 health emergency. It is important to note that the existing waiver for subscriber usage requirements will only be extended through May 1, 2021.

Providers accessing the Universal Service Administrative Company’s National Lifeline Accountability Database can now reference the recertification reports in NLAD for the latest information on their subscribers’ recertification status. The NLAD database “allows service providers to check on a real-time, nationwide basis whether a consumer is already receiving a Lifeline Program-supported service,” according to USAC.

Also speaking at the event were Marijke Visser, senior policy advocate at the American Library Association, and Reggie Smith, CEO of the United States Distance Learning Association. Visser said universal access to affordable broadband is as essential as electricity. Smith said that addressing the digital divide has been made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic, and that USDLA aimed to provide the tools to help overcome that gap.

Our Broadband Breakfast Live Online events take place every Wednesday at 12 Noon ET. You can watch the March 10, 2021, event on this page. You can also PARTICIPATE in the current Broadband Breakfast Live Online event. REGISTER HERE.

Wednesday, March 10, 2021, 12 Noon ET — “The Emergency Broadband Benefit: What’s Included, and How Will the $3.2 Billion Program Work?”

  • In record time, on February 25, 2021, the Federal Communications Commission rolled out details behind the Emergency Broadband Benefit program, which provides discounts of up to $50 a month for broadband services, or $75 a month for those on tribal lands. How does the $3.2 billion federal initiative work? How will it help those at risk of digital disconnection? In this special breaking Broadband Breakfast Live Online, our panelists will explore the program and how it will make a difference.


  • Dr. Reggie Smith III, CEO of the United States Distance Learning Association (USDLA)
  • Marijke Visser, Senior Policy Advocate at the American Library Association (ALA)
  • Brian Hurley, Vice President of Regulatory Affairs, America’s Communications Association (ACA Connects)
  • Jodie Griffin, Deputy Division Chief of the Telecommunications Access Policy Division, Wireline Competition Bureau at the FCC
  • Drew Clark (moderator), Editor and Publisher, Broadband Breakfast

Dr. Reggie Smith III currently serves as the Chief Executive Officer and Executive Director of the United States Distance Learning Association (USDLA). In this current capacity, he provides leadership to the association, members, and partners. The USDLA is a 501(c) 3 non-profit association that promotes the development and application of distance learning for education and training and serves the needs of the distance learning community by providing advocacy, information, networking, and opportunity.

Marijke Visser is Senior Policy Advocate at the American Library Association’s Public Policy and Advocacy Office in Washington, D.C. Her portfolio includes issues related to youth and technology as well as telecommunications policy and equitable access to information. Her advocacy raises federal decision-makers’ awareness of the role of libraries in education, employment and entrepreneurship, civic engagement, and individual empowerment. She leads ALA’s work on the federal E-rate program which ensures public libraries have access to high-capacity broadband. Most recently Ms. Vissir has lead two initiatives for preparing the workforce and supporting small businesses through libraries with a focus on equity of opportunity.

Brian Hurley serves as Vice President of Regulatory Affairs for ACA Connects — America’s Communications Association (ACA Connects). Before joining ACA Connects in 2018, he served as Special Counsel in the Competition Policy Division of the Federal Communications Commission’s Wireline Competition Bureau.  He holds a Bachelor’s degree in Philosophy from DePauw University and Juris Doctor degree from Duke University.

Jodie Griffin is a Deputy Division Chief in the Telecommunications Access Policy Division in the Federal Communications Commission’s Wireline Competition Bureau, where she leads the Lifeline and Emergency Broadband Benefit Program teams. Prior to joining the FCC, Jodie was a Senior Staff Attorney for Public Knowledge, where she advocated for consumers on telecommunications and copyright issues.

Panelist Resources

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Former FCC Commissioner Says FCC Not Best Suited to Distribute Affordable Connectivity Program Funds

The FCC’s expertise does not translate to a social distribution mechanism.



Photo of Michael O'Rielly, former FCC Commissioner

WASHINGTON, June 5, 2023 – The Federal Communications Commission is not well suited for distributing the funds in the Affordable Connectivity Program, said former FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly at a Brookings Institution event Monday. 

The ACP is currently subsidizing broadband access for over 17 million Americans with a discount of up to $30 and $75 a month for low-income and tribal households.

Although O’Rielly did not suggest an alternative solution, he indicated that social service offices could be better suited to distributing ACP funds than the FCC. 

The FCC can and should provide technical advice and insight on technical components of the program, he said, but it is “not well suited” to act as a social distribution mechanism. The FCC should participate in the umbrella structure of the ACP program provided another entity deals with the distribution process, he said. He assured the panel that doing so will not reduce the quality of broadband products to the end user. 

The FCC is responsible for managing the ACP Outreach Grant Program that provides funding to increase awareness of and participation in the ACP among eligible households. The program is made up of four grant programs: the National Competitive Outreach Program, the Tribal Competitive Outreach Program, the Your Home Your Internet Pilot Program and the ACP Navigator Pilot Program.  

A total of $70 million is available for the NCOP and TCOP grant programs. Grants through the YHYI and ACP Navigator program will offer up to $5 million in grants. The FCC has awarded $66 million in grants to date. 

Some of the large telecommunications companies have urged Congress to extend the ACP for the long-term, as they say there is a real concern that the $14-billion program could run out of funds by the first quarter of next year.

O’Rielly praised the ACP program as the “best structure we have to date” to achieve digital adoption goals. He expressed his support that the program be funded through congressional appropriations, which increases the level of control Congress has on the program.  

“Congress being involved is the only way to ensure the program is sustainable,” he said.  

In response to concerns that congressional appropriations will not support the program in the face of looming debts and the recent debt ceiling deal, O’Rielly said that the ACP program deserves appropriate scrutiny on its effectiveness but that it “can be defended” and “deserves additional funding.” 

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Senators Set Up Universal Service Fund Working Group, As Cruz Mounts Criticism of Broadband Program

A new Senate working group is set to consider reforms to the USF.



Photo of Ted Cruz

WASHINGTON, May 23, 2023 – Sens. Ben Lujan, D-N.M., and John Thune, R-S.D., announced a bipartisan Senate working group earlier this month that would evaluate and propose potential reforms to the Universal Service Fund and guide education, awareness, and policymaking on the topic. 

The USF, funded through a tax on voice service providers, supports four programs that make telephone and broadband services affordable for low-income households, health care providers, and schools and libraries. The fund’s sustainability has been under pressure with voice service revenues declining as more Americans use broadband services. 

The working group will consider the current state of the USF requirements and consider reforms that would ensure the Federal Communications Commission is able to achieve its mission of universal service across the United States. 

“Every community deserves a pathway to an affordable, resilient, and secure internet connection, and strengthening the Universal Service Fund is a key part of delivering our promise to connect every corner of America,” said Luján in a statement. 

Sen Shelley Capito, R-W.VA. said that, “All options need to be on the table to modernize and update the USF to encourage and maintain universal service with our sights set on a more responsible, predictable, and prudent USF.” 

Joining them in the working group are Sens. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., Shelley Capito, R-W.Va., Gary Peters, D-Mitch., and Jerry Moran, R-Kan.  

Competitive Carriers Association CEO Tim Donovan commended the announcement, saying “USF programs are critical for competitive carriers and the consumers they serve. Going forward, these programs must provide sustainable, predictable, and sufficient support.” 

Congressional legislation addressing USF concerns

The announcement follows the reintroduction of the Funding Affordable Internet with Reliable Contributions Act in March by Sens. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., Ben Lugan, D-N.M., Todd Young, R-Ind., and Mark Kelly, D-Ariz. 

The FAIR Act would direct the FCC to conduct a feasibility study on collecting contributions from internet edge providers. It has passed the house and has been received in the Senate, awaiting a vote. 

Later in March, a bill was introduced in both chambers that would require the FCC within one year of the enactment to solidify rules to reform how the fund is supported and conduct a study on the need to broaden the fund’s base. The Reforming Broadband Connectivity Act of 2023 is a version of a similar bill introduced in 2021. 

In August, the FCC submitted a letter to Congress, urging it to “provide the commission with the legislative tools needed to make changes to the contributions methodology and base” for the USF.  

Currently, there is “significant ambiguity in the record regarding the scope of the commission’s existing authority to broaden the base of contributors,” read the report. The FCC called for more power to make the necessary changes to support the program over the long term. 

Ted Cruz takes USF management to task

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Tex., said in his opening statements to a Senate Subcommittee on Communications, Media and Broadband hearing on May 11 that the USF is unshackled from congressional control and the FCC has avoided accountability for its “wasteful” and “ineffective” spending.  

By this time, the fifth and sixth circuit appeals courts ruled in favor of the FCC when they denied a challenge to the commission’s authority in collecting money for the USF. Consumers’ Research alleged that the FCC was unconstitutionally delegating a private entity, the Universal Service Administrative Company, to help run USF programs. The court overruled the opinion, claiming that “Congress chose to ‘confer substantial discretion’ over administration of the USF to the FCC.” 

Cruz said the FCC has never held a commission-level vote on a USF tax increase, instead choosing to passively enable hikes through a bureaucratic process, claimed Cruz in his remarks. The FCC has a couple of weeks to either approve or challenge the amount determined by USAC that needs to be collected from voice service providers. 

“All told, the FCC has spent more than $156 billion on USF programs over the past twenty years. It’s unclear what American consumers have to show for it—other than higher phone bills,” Cruz said.

It is past due for Congress to get USF spending under control, he said. The solution is not to expand the base as it would not address the USF’s “underlying accountability failures.”

He called for Congress to consider all options of USF reform, “including subjecting it to the appropriations process, eliminating duplicative programs, and preserving only those efforts that demonstrate quantifiable benefits for American consumers.

“It has imposed ever-increasing tax burdens on American consumers without sufficient checks and balances or oversight from Congress,” he wrote, claiming that the USF has morphed into a “regressive, hidden tax.” 

Similarly, the FCC “claims the new ACP program is successful but offers no data showing it has increased broadband adoption among low-income Americans as intended,” he said, claiming that the FCC is not responsibly managing the funds and rejecting the suggestion to increase FCC legislative authority. The ACP provides a monthly discount of up to $30 and $75 on tribal lands for connectivity. 

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FCC Launches Emergency Broadband Benefit Program

The Emergency Broadband Benefit is designed to help economically disadvantaged households get reliable broadband at a subsidized rate.



May 12, 2021—Federal Communications Commission Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel announced the official roll out of the Emergency Broadband Benefit to close the digital divide and address the homework gap facing students.

The Emergency Broadband Benefit kicked off Wednesday and is the nation’s largest broadband subsidy program to ever be enacted. The benefit is slated to last until the $3.2 billion allocated for the benefit runs out. 6.5 million Pell Grant recipients alone would qualify for the program, in addition to every household with students who qualify free school breakfast and lunch program.

The fund would provide $50 a month to qualified households and $75 a month for households on tribal land, in addition to a one-time reimbursement of $100 towards securing a laptop or tablet that can access broadband.

More than 824 broadband providers have committed to participating in the benefit. “We’re going to have a lot of competition,” Rosenworcel said. “That will allow households to choose the services that work for them.”

Additionally, Rosenworcel added that as many as 17 million students do not have broadband access at home. “These are the students who sit in fast food restaurants and do their homework with a side of fries,” she said. “These students are disproportionately black, Latino, and American Indian or Alaskan native, but you’re going to find them in every community in this country—rural and urban alike.”

She stated that connecting these students will be a crucial step in addressing the homework gap, and more broadly, the digital divide.

“This program, any successor program, the Emergency Connectivity Fund—they are all designed to help us reach that goal,” Rosenworcel concluded. “It is my hope that we do not stop until we reach 100 percent of our nation.”

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