Yesterday, the FCC issued an Enforcement Advisory in advance of today’s launch of the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program (EBBP). The advisory reminds providers participating in the EBBP of their obligations to comply with the program’s rules. Providers must ensure that existing Lifeline customers give their informed affirmative consent to participate in the EBBP. Under the EBBP rules, customers can choose not to apply their emergency broadband benefit with their existing Lifeline provider without jeopardizing their Lifeline service.

The FCC has heard that some providers may be linking EBBP enrollment to implementation of technical changes necessary to retain the subscriber’s existing service or automatically enrolling subscribers that provide information needed for another purpose. The FCC warns that these practices may be deceptive and may undermine the integrity of the EBBP and can threaten to put subscribers at risk of losing their existing Lifeline service. The FCC emphasizes that providers must ensure that communications to consumers about the EBBP are clear, accurate, and not misleading as to the nature of the program, the program’s eligibility requirements, and the timing of the program and application process.

The advisory states that at a minimum, providers must make it clear that subscribers:

  1. may continue their existing Lifeline service without enrolling in the EBBP;
  2. may choose to take EBBP benefits from a service provider other than their existing Lifeline provider; and
  3. may transfer EBBP benefits to another provider at any time.

The advisory also highlights that “the provider must also retain documentation demonstrating that, having received such disclosures, the household provided affirmative consent to applying their Emergency Broadband Benefit to the service received from the EBB provider. Broadband providers may be required to provide such documentation to demonstrate compliance during an audit, validation, or investigation.”

Further Guidance on EBBP Questions
USAC has clarified a couple of key issues regarding the EBBP process that were causing confusion. First, many companies have asked how to handle partial monthly service under the EBBP. Although the EBBP Order seemed to indicate that using a uniform snapshot would not require a provider to claim a prorated amount when seeking reimbursement, USAC has now said that is not the case.  USAC states that:

“the EBB reimbursement cannot exceed the EBB discount that the provider actually passed through to the consumer for that month. So if the prorated price of the service is less than $50 for that month, then the provider must ensure it is not claiming reimbursement for more than the price of the service in that month.”

Secondly, while the rules are clear that providers cannot disconnect EBBP customers for non-payment, it was not clear if providers could downgrade a customer’s broadband service to a lower-priced plan for non-payment. USAC clarifies that:

“EBB Program rules do not prohibit a provider from downgrading a subscriber’s broadband service if the subscriber falls behind on their portion of the bill for the EBB-supported service. Providers downgrading a customer’s EBB-supported service due to non-payment are urged not to downgrade the EBB-supported service without the subscriber’s knowledge.”

If you have any questions about the EBBP, please contact Lans Chase at 770-569-2105 or John Kuykendall at 301-459-7590. If you would like JSI’s enrollment and customer notice templates, please contact Janee Devis at 301-459-7590.