EBB program is a harbinger of more government action on broadband affordability, says GlobalData

Following the launch of the US Government’s Emergency Broadband Benefit (EBB) program, which provides discounted broadband service to eligible participants, Tammy Parker, Senior Analyst at GlobalData, a leading data and analytics company, offers her view:

“The EBB program signals an emerging focus on broadband affordability rather than just accessibility. US regulators and lawmakers have been trying for years to ease the digital divide, recognizing that without access to the internet and service that delivers minimal broadband speeds, working from home and remote schooling are largely impossible.

“In years past, the regulatory focus has largely been on expanding availability to bring unserved and underserved areas into the digital pipeline. However, COVID-19’s economic and societal impacts highlighted the economic inequities around broadband. Even when service is available, potential end users may not be able to pay for it.

“EBB discounts are the same regardless of service provider, but carriers can differentiate how they promote them, such as touting how EBB can be used to make their lowest cost plans free. The EBB aids carriers in that it will keep cash-strapped customers on the broadband rolls and should also attract users who may or may not have had broadband subscriptions in the past.

“However, carriers likely have something to fear in President Joe Biden’s Broadband for All vision, in which the federal government would dedicate $100bn to ensure widespread and affordable internet connectivity. That effort would prioritize funding for government-run or non-profit networks rather than incentivizing private investments through grants and subsidies to encourage infrastructure buildouts.

“Digital inclusion based upon broadband access is increasingly described as a civil right. The government will continue pushing for wider broadband availability, with the caveat that it must be made affordable. Expect more calls for broadband price regulation and a renewed push for Net Neutrality, this time to smooth the path for universal service funding fees to expand broadband accessibility.”

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