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During this new time of virtual learning, student access to connectivity has become more important than ever. The COVID-19 bill which passed in December 2020 included funding for a $3.2 billion Emergency Broadband Benefit (EBB) Program.  The Program is designed to provide affordable home internet access for low-income eligible students requiring such service for remote learning by subsidizing the purchase of remote devices and home internet services during the pandemic.  Implementation of the EBB has been put on a fast track by the FCC.  The current plan is for the Program to be administered by USAC, the same group which handles the E-Rate Program, and to begin offering the discounts to eligible low-income families by late April. The funds will be offered as reimbursements to participating internet service providers in return for providing discounted broadband internet services and certain connected devices.  

Under the Program, eligible households can receive a monthly discount of up to $50 on their internet service. In addition to the monthly $50 subsidies, the EBB Program encourages service providers to provide eligible households with a single connected device (laptop or desktop computer), for which the provider may be reimbursed up to $100.  

The EBB Regulations define “eligible households” as any household with at least one member of the household who: 

  • Is qualified to participate in federal Lifeline program;
  • Is qualified to participate in free and reduced school lunch and/or school breakfast program;
  • Has experienced substantial loss of income since February 29, 2020 (documented by layoff or furlough notice, application for unemployment insurance benefits, or similar document);
  • Has received a Federal Pell Grant in the current award year; or
  • Meets the eligibility criteria for a participating provider’s existing low-income or COVID-19 program.

While school districts are not required to participate in the Program, the FCC strongly encourages schools to play a major role in the promotion of the EBB Program on behalf of their low-income students and patrons. Schools are encouraged to promote and participate by:

  • Reaching out to low-income families, particularly those with students who require internet access for remote learning, to alert them of the availability of EBB internet discounts.
  • Encouraging eligible families already subscribing to internet services to confirm that their internet provider will be participating in EBB;
  • Encouraging families without internet service to subscribe to the discounted services; and
  • Working with local internet providers to encourage the provider’s participation in the EBB Program, identify needy students, and help EBB service providers to validate family eligibility.

In addition to providing reimbursement to Internet Service Providers for the monthly discounts provided to households, school districts that are currently paying for home internet access for eligible students or staff, or that are prepared to do so, can potentially lower the cost of those services by taking advantage of EBB’s “bulk subscription option”.   Under this option, districts are entitled to receive the same kind of reimbursement as the internet providers for providing home internet access to their eligible students and staff in a bulk subscription with an eligible provider.   However, EBB regulations require that the families receiving discounts give consent for the district to receive credit from the service provider for the services it provides to the family. Service providers can then discount a district’s bulk subscription on behalf of such families, but will likely expect the district to take the lead in obtaining consent from the families.  Furthermore, the regulations will require the district to provide a plan for how support can be provided to the students and their families when the EBB Program ends, if it participates in the bulk subscription discount. 

More good news:  additional E-Rate funding may soon become available to districts through the Emergency Educational Connections Act. This $7.6 billion E-Rate funding provision included in the legislation on the President’s desk for signature would assist districts in providing off-campus broadband internet services, Wi-Fi hotspots, modems, routers, and internet-enabled devices, including internet service through such equipment, to students, staff, and patrons.  

If you need help determining student/family eligibility, need further information regarding how you can assist eligible families, how to access the bulk subscription reimbursements or just have general questions about the EBB Program, please contact us at any one of the numbers listed below to speak to an attorney about which steps to take.

Amarillo Office   ΜΆ   888-622-6864

Austin Office – 800.252.3405

Houston Office – 888.565.6864

Irving Office – 800.231.4207

Rio Grande Valley Office – 866.770.6864

San Antonio Office – 800.232.9169

Albuquerque Office – 800.771.6864

This email update was prepared by Walsh Gallegos attorneys Winnie Dominguez and Destinee Gesing and is provided as a benefit of the Walsh Gallegos retainer program.  The information in this email was created by Walsh Gallegos Treviño Russo & Kyle P. C. It is intended to be used for general information only and is not to be considered specific legal advice.  If specific legal advice is sought, consult an attorney.