FCC Proposes Rules for Broadband Connectivity Program

June 17, 2022 | by Andrew Regitsky

FCC Proposes Rules for Broadband Connectivity Program

On June 8, 2022, in Docket 21-450, the FCC released a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (Notice) intended to establish rules for collecting data on the price and subscription rates of broadband services obtained by consumers enrolled in the Affordable Connectivity Program (Program). The Commission must establish such rules to comply with the requirements in the 2021 Federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (Act). The Notice seeks comment on the data to be collected, the format for publishing the data, and the timing of the collection, as well as methods for protecting personally identifiable or proprietary information.

Here is the information for which the Commission seeks industry input:

Price and Subscription Rate Information – The Act requires an “annual collection by the Commission of data relating to the price and subscription rates of each internet service offering of a participating provider under the Affordable Connectivity Program . . . to which an eligible household subscribes.” To do so, the Commission proposes that the price information includes the monthly charge for the service offering that a household would be charged absent the application of the affordable connectivity benefit. However, it asks for help in determining how pricing quirks such as promotional offerings and introductory pricing plans be included in the data collected.

The agency seeks comments on the collection of subscription rates. It defines “subscription rate” as the total program subscribership to a unique broadband service offering over time and asks if this is the correct approach. It asks if it should require providers to submit annually such subscription rate data. Disaggregated by month or quarter? Will either of these approaches better enable it to calculate the “take rate” (i.e., the fraction of subscribers selecting the plan from those who could select the plan) and identify changes in the rate over time?

Plan Characteristics - In its Affordable Connectivity Program Order, the FCC determined that collecting data on service plan characteristics, including upload and download speeds, data allowances, and co-payments could help determine the value the Program provides to households. It now asks in the Notice whether it should collect data on advertised or maximum speeds and whether there are other speed measurements it should consider collecting instead. Should it collect information about service plan data caps, including the amount of the data cap and the number of subscribers who have reached their cap? What about information concerning associated equipment, including whether a plan includes or requires a modem or router rental? For bundled service plans should it collect information concerning the characteristics of the bundle, including whether voice is included in the bundle, voice characteristics (e.g., total minutes), whether video is included, video characteristics (e.g., total channels, channels included)?

Broadband Consumer Labels – The Commission seeks comments on the interplay between the ACP transparency data collection and broadband consumer labels. How should it structure the Program transparency data collection to take advantage of information contained in the broadband labels?

Performance Metrics – The FCC proposes to use information in the transparency data collection for the evaluation of the performance of the Program in achieving the goals set in the ACP Order. Those goals are to (1) reduce the digital divide for low-income consumers, (2) promote awareness and participation in the Affordable Connectivity Program, and (3) ensure efficient and effective administration of the Affordable Connectivity Program. It seeks comments on this proposal.

Data Collection Systems – The agency proposes to allow providers to efficiently submit information for the transparency data collection, using the National Lifeline Accountability Database (NLAD) or other USAC systems to collect subscriber-level data. It seeks comments on this.

Data Filers – The Commission views the Infrastructure Act as requiring every provider participating in the Affordable Connectivity Program to provide such data, regardless of the number of enrolled households. It seeks comments on that view and the benefits of that approach.

Data Updates – It will be easy to collect data on new households entering the program. However, the Commission seeks comments on how to backfill data to account for households already in the programs. What is the best way to obtain this data?

Collection Approaches – The FCC proposes that information about the price and subscription rate of broadband service offerings to which enrolled Program households subscribe be collected at the subscriber level.

Public Availability of Data - Congress directed the Commission “to make data relating to broadband internet access service collected” in this collection “available to the public in a commonly used electronic format without risking the disclosure of personally identifiable information or proprietary information, consistent with” section 0.459 of its rules. What data should be made public, how can subscriber privacy and provider interests be protected, and how should and how often should the data be published?

Industry comments are due 30 days after the Notice is published in the Federal Register. Reply comments are due 15 days later.