It's a new year, and the FCC's Emergency Broadband Benefit program (EBB) has come to an end. It has been replaced by the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP). If you are currently benefiting from the EBB program, you'll continue to do so until March 1, 2022. After that time, you'll have to transition to the new ACP benefit program.
In May of 2021, the EBB was put in place as a temporary measure to help families and households struggling to afford home and wireless internet service during the covid-19 pandemic. It gave those that qualified for the benefit up to $50/month towards their broadband or wireless service. Households on qualifying Tribal lands received up to a $75/month benefit. The EBB also allowed for up to a $100 discount on the purchase of a laptop, computer, tablet, and other qualifying devices. According to the FCC's EBB tracker and noted in a prepaid report sent out to its subscribers by the firm Wave7 Research, 8.9 million households are participating in the program as of 12/26/21. A total of 67.9% of the households are getting their broadband via a mobile network, with 31.6% getting broadband via landline network.
The ACP program that has replaced the EBB cuts back on benefits for the majority of eligible consumers. Instead of a $50/month discount for qualifying persons and households, a $30/month discount will be provided. Households on Tribal lands will still qualify for discounts of up to $75/month. Discounts of up to $100 off device purchases remain in place for all. Like with the EBB, only one person in a qualifying household can receive the benefits. The ACP benefit program is available now.
ACP Eligibility Requirements
Eligibility requirements to benefit from the ACP are a bit different than they were under the EBB. To qualify for the ACP you must meet at least one of the following requirements:
Has an income that is at or below 200% of the federal poverty guidelines; (Under EBB income needed to be at or below 135% of the federal poverty guidelines. )
Participates in certain assistance programs, such as SNAP, Medicaid, Federal Public Housing Assistance, SSI, WIC, or Lifeline;
Participates in Tribal specific programs, such as Bureau of Indian Affairs General Assistance, Tribal TANF, or Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations;
Is approved to receive benefits under the free and reduced-price school lunch program or the school breakfast program, including through the USDA Community Eligibility Provision in the 2019-2020, 2020-2021, or 2021-2022 school year;
Received a Federal Pell Grant during the current award year; or
Meets the eligibility criteria for a participating provider's existing low-income program.
Under the EBB, those that "experienced a substantial loss of income due to job loss or furlough since February 29, 2020, and the household had a total income in 2020 at or below $99,000 for single filers and $198,000 for joint filers" were also eligible for the program.
What MVNOs And Prepaid Providers Are Participating In ACP?
The FCC has put together a state-by-state list of providers participating in the ACP program. Although a provider may be listed as participating in the program, it does not guarantee they'll release wireless plans designed for the program.
At the end of December, AT&T put out a press release announcing that both it and its prepaid subsidiary, Cricket Wireless, would participate in the new ACP program. They also put up a webpage to explain to their customers how they can take advantage of the benefits. Customers can enroll in each brand's programs starting on January 7. The benefit is expected to be available with all Cricket Wireless plans. AT&T and Cricket were also early out of the gate under the EBB program to publicize their plans to participate in it.
According to the firm Wave7 Research, Boost Mobile pitched the EBB program more energetically than other carriers. The firm also noted in a recent prepaid report sent out to its subscribers that Boost has been actively training its reps on the ACP program. One Boost Mobile distributor in Kansas City, MO, tweeted of the training at the end of December.
Boost Mobile has also set up a webpage detailing their participation in the ACP. According to that page, Boost will have wireless plans specifically designed for the program. The plans will offer their customers free service on either a phone plan, tablet plan, or mobile hotspot plan. Boost Mobile's ACP plan will offer its customers 7GB of monthly 5G/4G LTE data with unlimited data available at slower speeds once the high-speed allotment gets consumed. Boost Mobile's flagship plans offer throttled data speeds at 512Kbps. It is not clear if the plans designed specifically for ACP will offer throttled data speeds at the same speeds or not. If used on a phone plan, customers will also receive unlimited talk and text and 50 domestic roaming minutes. The ACP benefit can also be used to get $30/month off of any other Boost Mobile plan.
Some of the other prepaid providers that are participating in the ACP program include Good2Go Mobile, Red Pocket Mobile, Boss Wireless, Selectel Wireless, Tracfone, Metro by T-Mobile, and Mint Mobile. Red Pocket Mobile says that it is offering customers qualifying for ACP a free phone plan with 30GB of high-speed data each month. The plan is only available for use on Red Pocket's GSMA network, which corresponds to the AT&T network.
Not all providers are participating in every state. You can see which providers are available in your state by visiting the FCC's list of ACP participating providers.
Jeff Moore, Principal of Wave7 Research, believes that the ACP program is here to stay. He commented to BestMVNO: “It looks like the ACP is going to be part of the competitive landscape long-term. It will be interesting to see how the divergent approaches to it play out. Boost is all in, but it looks like T-Mobile is pushing ACP efforts toward Assurance, with Metro by T-Mobile seemingly not participating. Cricket is participating and there was an interesting tidbit in their press release, that 30% of U.S. households may qualify.”