The Federal Communications Commission is seeking public comment on how to best distribute $3.2 billion of funding approved by Congress late last month as part of combined FY 2021 government funding and COVID-19 relief legislation to help low-income Americans access internet services.

The new funding will be administered through an Emergency Broadband Benefit Program authorized by the legislation and being created by the FCC, the agency said in a January 4 notice.  The program will reimburse service providers for providing discounted broadband services and connected devices during the coronavirus pandemic.

Participating service providers will give eligible households a monthly discount from standard rates of up to $50 per month for broadband service and associated equipment, and a monthly discount of $75 per month for eligible households on tribal lands. Additional discounts of up to $100 may be provided for connected devices including laptop, desktop, and tablet devices.

Comments are due to the FCC by Jan. 25, with reply comments due Feb. 16.

Early on in the coronavirus pandemic, the FCC led communications services providers in the Keep Americans Connected Pledge under which more than 700 carriers agreed to not terminate service to any residential or small business customer due to inability to pay for services because of the pandemic.

“We’re excited to get to work on this new program, which responds to my call last June for Congress to fund a program to advance the Keep Americans Connected initiative that we launched when the pandemic started,” said FCC Chairman Ajit Pai this week.

“The Emergency Broadband Benefit Program will go a long way to ensuring that low-income American families and veterans are connected during the pandemic, and that students can engage in remote learning with support from the program’s funding for connected devices,” said Pai, who is leaving the agency later this month.  “Our staff is moving quickly to stand up this program so we can quickly direct funding to consumers who need the help, while also guarding against waste, fraud, and abuse. We look forward to getting public input on how best to structure this effort,” he said.

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