Over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, NCTA members have worked hard to ensure all Americans remain connected to fast and reliable internet service. In rising to the challenge, cable broadband providers expanded and enhanced their low-income broadband programs and launched new programs to qualifying customers. To date, NCTA members have connected over 10 million consumers to broadband internet through these programs.
Why it matters: In a world where an internet connection is a must-have for everything from education and healthcare to job searching, the low-income broadband programs like the ones offered by NCTA’s members are critical to closing the digital divide. For years, these programs have been a cornerstone of the cable industry’s offerings, providing discounted internet service to individuals and families most in need.
Cable's COVID-19 response: During the COVID-19 pandemic, NCTA’s members have connected even more families to broadband without any government assistance. To do this, providers expanded eligibility criteria and engaged in significant efforts with community partners to get the word out. In addition, NCTA partnered with nonprofit EducationSuperHighway to launch K12 Bridge to Broadband, a new program that enables school districts to purchase discounted internet plans for low-income students to continue their education at home. These efforts have ensured that those most affected by the pandemic were able to access the internet when they needed it the most.
What comes next: The federal government has an important role to play in building on private broadband adoption efforts before and during the COVID-19 emergency. Accordingly, NCTA supports the $3.2 billion Emergency Broadband Benefit (EBB) program that Congress passed in December 2020 to rapidly scale broadband assistance for those households in the greatest need.
The FCC is currently seeking public input on the program and will adopt program rules by the end of this month. To rapidly connect more Americans to broadband using EBB, NCTA recommends that the FCC:
- Establish eligibility criteria that will maximize participation among different types of qualified broadband providers and give consumers a choice of service providers and service offerings to meet their needs.
- Minimize burdens associated with a short-term, temporary program, such as pre-approving ISPs with existing low-cost broadband programs.
Who will benefit: By adopting NCTA’s recommendations, Congress and the FCC will be able to capitalize on the efforts cable broadband providers have already made to ensure Americans remain connected during this unprecedented national emergency. It will also ensure that this short-term and limited benefit has the broadest impact possible. If successful, the EBB program could also encourage broader competitive options for consumers, giving these households more choices for subsidized connectivity during the crisis.