22 11, 2021

FCC Seeks Comment on the Affordable Connectivity Program

2021-11-22T10:38:19-05:00November 22, 2021|e-Lerts|

On November 18, 2021, the FCC issued a Public Notice seeking comment on its implementation of the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP). The ACP is part of the enacted Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and expands and modifies the current Emergency Broadband Benefit Program (EBBP) with a $14.2 billion appropriation and changes to the household eligibility requirements. The Commission seeks comment on how to transition from the EBBP to the ACP and welcomes input on how the ACP will operate as a long-term program. Comments are due December 8, 2021. Reply comments are due December 28, 2021.

The biggest change from the EBBP to the ACP is the monthly support amount for households located on non-tribal lands. This monthly support will decline from $50 per month to $30 per month. (The monthly benefit for eligible Tribal households remains unchanged at $75.) The effective start date of the ACP is established in the Act and will be December 31, 2021. There will be a 60-day transition from the EBBP benefit to the lower ACP benefit.

One provision of the ACP allows an enhanced benefit above the standard non-tribal $30 per month benefit, up to $75 per month for households served by providers in “high-cost areas” and where the provider can show a “particular economic hardship.” How providers in high-cost areas benefit from this provision is one area where the Commission seeks industry input.

JSI will be tracking this docket closely and will provide further details as the rules for the transition to the new ACP are finalized. If you have questions about the ACP or would like JSI to assist with filing comments, please contact Lans Chase at 770-569-2105, Liz Kayser at 512-338-0473, or Douglas Meredith at 801-294-4576.

2 06, 2021

EBBP Claims for Reimbursement Begin

2021-11-02T13:11:29-04:00June 2, 2021|e-Lerts|

Providers can now start the process for seeking reimbursement through the EBBP Claims System. For the June 1st snapshot, providers can claim reimbursement for any subscriber enrolled in the National Lifeline Accountability Database (NLAD) by May 31st. Unfortunately, most providers reported struggles enrolling subscribers who qualified through the National Verifier into NLAD due to issues with matching the subscriber’s correct personally identifiable information (PII) such as name, address, DOB, etc. USAC requires an exact match for this information as to what appears on the applicant’s National Verifier application. If you are having issues with NLAD enrollments, please contact Lans Chase.

USAC sent out an email yesterday that brought to light a potential issue with processing of EBBP reimbursements. USAC stated that to ensure timely disbursement of EBBP claims, providers should confirm as soon as possible that the FCC Registration Number (FRN) and Dun & Bradstreet Number (DUNS) provided in your company’s EBBP election notice match the Employer Identification Number (EIN) listed in the Commission’s Registration System (CORES) and in SAM.gov. If the EINs do not match, it could impact the timing of your EBBP reimbursement.

To avoid delays in EBBP reimbursements, USAC has requested that all providers check whether the FRN and DUNS provided with their election notice have the same EIN in both CORES and SAM.gov. If the EINs do not match, USAC has asked providers to email them, by June 8, at EBBElection@usac.org and provide the FRN and EIN of the company that matches the DUNS registered in SAM.gov. This will allow USAC to issue EBBP reimbursement and help ensure timely payment processing.

If you have questions on the EBBP NLAD enrollment issues or with EBBP reimbursements, please contact Lans Chase at 770-569-2105.

12 05, 2021

EBBP Officially Launches Today; FCC Issues Warning to Providers

2021-11-02T13:11:58-04:00May 12, 2021|e-Lerts|

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.

30 04, 2021

FCC’s Emergency Broadband Benefit Program Launches May 12

2021-11-02T13:13:23-04:00April 30, 2021|e-Lerts|

The FCC just announced that the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program (EBBP) will begin Wednesday, May 12, 2021. On this date, eligible customers will be able to enroll in the EBBP to receive a monthly discount off the cost of broadband service from an approved provider (See JSI’s March 1, 2021, e-Lert for more about the EBBP). Customers can start the eligibility process by visiting https://getemergencybroadband.org and then apply starting May 12.

Between now and May 12, the FCC encourages partners and participating providers to conduct outreach efforts so that every eligible household knows about the program and how to sign up. The FCC will be providing a toolkit with a variety of materials for broadband providers and community partners to use in their efforts to increase awareness about the program.

Existing ETCs that have not yet elected to participate in the EBBP by completing the election process with USAC can still do so. There is not a hard deadline for participation, but ETCs should get their election forms and documentation to USAC as soon as possible in order to begin signing up customers when the program launches.

If you have any questions, 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.

23 04, 2021

Emergency Broadband Benefit Program Set to Launch Soon

2021-11-02T13:13:42-04:00April 23, 2021|e-Lerts|

JSI makes enrollment form, notice templates available

The FCC’s Emergency Broadband Benefit Program (EBBP) is counting down towards launch. As providers are working to finalize their election to participate with USAC, receiving new EBBP study area codes (SACs), and updating SAM.gov registration, JSI is helping broadband providers with customer enrollment forms and customer notice language that contain the necessary disclosures required by the EBBP Order and Rules. The FCC is also doing its part to officially start the program by scheduling an upcoming webinar and allowing for testing in the Lifeline-related databases.

FCC Webinar
The FCC will be holding a webinar on Tuesday April 27 at 3:00 p.m. EDT. The FCC’s webinar will provide an overview of the EBBP, eligibility information, and enrollment procedures. The FCC will also discuss the outreach tool kit materials it has developed for partners and the public to use to create awareness about the temporary program.

System Testing for National Verifier and NLAD Now Open
The FCC and USAC announced starting April 19 service providers who have completed the election process with USAC can access the EBBP staging environment in the National Verifier.  They can begin performing sample transactions in the National Verifier to test how consumers can apply to verify eligibility for the EBBP. Testing for new EBBP enrollment workflows in the National Lifeline Accountability Database (NLAD) began on April 21. Providers should be able to test both the API and batch upload enrollment processes.

If you would like our enrollment and customer notice templates, please contact Janee Devis at 301-459-7590. For questions or more information about the EBBP, please contact Lans Chase at 770-569-2105 or John Kuykendall at 301-459-7590.

8 03, 2021

FCC Announces Timeline to Participate in the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program

2021-11-02T13:15:10-04:00March 8, 2021|e-Lerts|

JSI’s March 16th Webinar Will Equip Participants for Implementation

In our March 1st e-Lert, we told you about the FCC’s Report and Order to establish the Emergency Broadband Benefit (EBB) program and its directive to the Wireline Bureau to release multiple Public Notices announcing timelines and other details. The first Public Notice was released late last week and contains two sets of timelines to submit information if your company decides to participate in the program – one for eligible telecommunications carriers (ETCs) and their affiliates that provide service within the same state (together known as Providers) to file an “election” with USAC and the other for non-ETCs to file an application with the FCC for approval to participate in the EBB program.

Most JSI clients fall under the category of Providers and can begin submitting their elections to participate in the program as soon as Thursday, March 11. We explain more about this process below. Entities that are not ETCs or do not have any affiliated ETCs within the state in which they provide service have a filing window that opens Monday, March 8 and closes Monday, March 22. These non-ETC entities will receive automatic program approval from the FCC if they meet certain criteria, including if they are affiliated with an ETC that serves in another state. If they don’t meet the criteria for automatic approval, they can file and receive approval under an expedited basis. If your company falls in this non-ETC category, please contact JSI as soon as possible if you would like to know more about this process or would like JSI’s assistance in filing an application with the FCC.

JSI encourages clients to diligently consider participating in the program and urges those that decide to move forward to be prepared to implement the program in a way that minimizes potential problems caused by the program’s limited duration. Our March 16 webinar will review how to participate in the program and how it will be administered, but also will provide recommendations to address issues that could arise for either your existing Lifeline subscribers or new customers that qualify under the additional criteria of the EBB program when the program ends.

Timeline for Providers
Under the Consolidated Appropriations Act, which established the program, Congress determined that existing ETCs don’t need to seek approval to participate in the EBB program, but only need to file an “election” with USAC. ETCs are entities that already are obligated to offer Lifeline services to qualified low-income individuals and include: ILECs, CLECs or wireless carriers that receive “frozen” support, Rural Broadband Experiment and CAF Phase II auction winners, and Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) auction winners that have received ETC designation. In the Report and Order, the FCC ruled that affiliates of ETCs also qualify as Providers under the umbrella of the ETC if they provide service within the same state as the ETC.

The FCC announced the March 11 election application start date for Providers, but no deadline was provided. It is possible that one may be announced in a subsequent Public Notice, which will also provide the program’s start date. The program must begin no later than 60 days after the release of the Report and Order, which would be April 26. Given that the filing for Providers is an election open to all ETCs and in-state affiliates and is not a “first come, first served” application process, we urge clients not to rush to submit an election without thoroughly considering the pros and cons associated with implementing the program.

According to the Public Notice, Providers must submit a form to USAC, which USAC will make available “soon” on the link provided at the end of the notice (as of publishing of this e-Lert, the link was not yet available). Providers will then email that form to EBBElection@usac.org. JSI will be available to assist companies with completing and submitting the form.

Expect to see requests for the following information required by the Report and Order on USAC’s form:

  • The states in which the provider plans to participate in the EBB program;
  • A statement that the provider was a “broadband provider” in each such state as of December 1, 2020;
  • A list of states where the provider is an existing ETC, if any;
  • A list of states where the provider received FCC approval, whether automatic or expedited, to participate, if any;
  • Whether the provider intends to distribute connected devices under the EBB program;
  • A description of the Internet service offerings for which the provider plans to seek reimbursement from the EBB program in each state;
  • Documentation demonstrating the standard rates for those services; and
  • Any other administrative information necessary for USAC to establish participating providers in the EBB program.

Additionally, participants in the EBB Program will need an FRN, SPIN and have registered with the System for Award Management (SAM) in order to receive reimbursement. While registering with SAM is not required at the time of election, the Report and Order “strongly recommends” that Providers start the registration process “immediately” because of the time it may take for the registration to become effective. You can register with the system at https://www.sam.gov/SAM/. JSI is familiar with SAM and its cumbersome process so please let us know if you would like our assistance if you need to register. Providers that have already registered with SAM don’t need to reregister, but should check to see if its SAM registration needs to be renewed.

For more information about the EBB program or how JSI can assist your company in making the election with USAC or filing an application with the FCC, please contact Lans Chase at 770-569-2105 or John Kuykendall at 301-459-7590.

1 03, 2021

FCC Establishes the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program

2021-11-02T13:15:23-04:00March 1, 2021|e-Lerts|

JSI to Hold Webinar on March 16

The FCC late last week adopted a Report and Order to establish the Emergency Broadband Benefit (EBB) Program. The EBB program will provide eligible households with discounts off the cost of broadband service and certain connected devices for the duration of the emergency COVID-19 pandemic (see our Feb. 24th e-Lert). The Report and Order sets forth major aspects of the program, some of which are summarized below, and directs the Wireline Bureau to announce filing deadlines and other details in Public Notices – one of which is due within the next few days – that will provide the initial filing deadlines. The FCC will announce the EBB program’s start date, along with other key dates, this month or next.

JSI will hold a webinar on Tuesday, March 16th at 2 p.m. EDT to provide broadband providers with the information they’ll need to assess whether to participate in the program. We will review the pros and cons associated with being an EBB provider and go through the steps required to participate in the program and receive reimbursement. Registration for this webinar is $249 per company. You can sign up here.

The EBB program was established as part of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021. Congress tasked the FCC to create the $3.2 billion program to provide qualifying low-income households with discounts on their broadband services and equipment. Participating broadband providers will receive reimbursement from the EBB for monthly discounts off the standard rates for an Internet service offering and associated equipment, up to $50.00 per month (up to $75.0 per month on Tribal lands). Providers that supply customers with a connected device will be eligible for a single reimbursement of up to $100.00 for the connected device, if the charge to the eligible household for that device is more than $10.00 but less than $50.00 (a participating provider may receive reimbursement for only one supported device per eligible household).

As for eligibility, the good news is that all eligible telecommunications carriers (ETCs) can elect to participate in the program for itself or any of its affiliates. This means that ILECs, CLECs and wireless carriers that receive “frozen” support, Rural Broadband Experiment and CAF Phase II auction winners, and any Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) auction winners that have received ETC designation can participate or designate one or more of their respective affiliates as a participant. Further, ETCs are not required to participate in the program; it will be a voluntary election. Broadband providers that have no affiliated ETCs can also participate in the program under either an automatic or expedited approval process depending upon whether the provider meets certain criteria.

The program will utilize some of the existing mechanisms used by the FCC in its Lifeline program, such as the National Lifeline Eligibility Verifier (National Verifier) and National Lifeline Accountability Database (NLAD) and the Representative Accountability Database (RAD). But the FCC declined to impose Lifeline’s minimum service standards. Accordingly, participants in the EBB program will be able to offer discounts and receive reimbursements for any broadband services they offer, regardless of the speed.

One major issue with the program is that, at this point, it is only temporary and will end within the earlier of six months or until the program’s funds are exhausted. To ensure that households are informed that the benefit will terminate, the Order adopts procedures to notify all stakeholders of the forecasted end of the program, to disburse the remaining funds equally to providers, and to allow for a transition to ending the disbursement to households.

For more information about the EBB program or how JSI can assist your company in making the election, please contact Lans Chase at 770-569-2105 or John Kuykendall at 301-459-7590.

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