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Law360 (February 26, 2021, 7:49 PM EST) -- The Federal Communications Commission voted to set up a $3.2 billion program to distribute federal connectivity subsidies to families hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic, narrowly meeting by hours a congressionally imposed deadline to establish the program.
Within two months, the Emergency Broadband Benefit program will begin subsidizing up to $50 of a qualifying household's monthly internet bill, or up to $75 of monthly internet service on tribal lands. The program can additionally cover $100 toward equipment, such as laptops and tablets, if a household purchases the equipment through their internet provider.
"This is a program that will help those at risk of digital disconnection," said acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel in a statement. "It will help those who worry about choosing between paying a broadband bill and paying rent or buying groceries. This is good stuff. It can make a meaningful difference in the lives of people across the country."
While the program rules passed unanimously Thursday, Republican FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr cast a partly concurring vote. Carr previously suggested the agency should prioritize student participants in the program over other eligible households, such as those that have lost a substantial amount of income due to the pandemic. However, the originally proposed language that prioritizes all participants equally remained unchanged.
"While I would have preferred that we prioritize the needs of students, I remain pleased that the program we stand up today will benefit school kids," Carr wrote.
Still, Carr said he was glad the agency decided on a "unified start date for all eligible providers" in the program to help "avoid the consumer confusion that could have resulted from staggered start dates."
He also lauded the addition of "a timeline for beginning enrollment, specifying that we expect to open that process no later than 60 days from now."
Democratic FCC Commissioner Geoffrey Starks wrote that he's pleased the FCC chose not to complicate the enrollment process for Pell Grant and free and reduced-price school lunch recipients and to grant those recipients expedited approval.
"Quite clearly, we must connect these households as quickly as possible, with as few burdens as practicable," Starks said in a statement.
--Editing by Stephen Berg.
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