WASHINGTON, May 20 (Reuters) - More than 1 million U.S.
households have signed up to take part in a temporary $3.2
billion broadband subsidy program created by Congress in
December, the Federal Communications Commission said on
Over 900 broadband providers have agreed to take part in the
program that provides lower-income Americans or people impacted
by COVID-19 with discounts on monthly internet service and on
purchasing laptops or tablet computers. Some providers estimate
the program, which has been running since May 12, could run out
of money in four to six months.
FCC acting Chair Jessica Rosenworcel, responding to reports
that some carriers were not allowing customers with some plans
to take part in the subsidy, told reporters the practice was
unacceptable: "They need to knock it off."
Rosenworcel said consumers asked to sign up for a more
expensive plan to take part should file a complaint with the FCC
and she pledged to follow up with carriers.
"They may be finding a way to provide service consistent
with the letter of the law but that behavior violates the
spirit," Rosenworcel said.
Verizon Communications said "moving forward" it would
allow customers to enroll even if they have legacy service plans
no longer offered.
"We are not asking customers to upgrade their plan in order
to take advantage of the (program) benefits. Our goal is to help
eligible customers find the plan that best meets their needs,
the company said in a blog post.
Carriers declined to say how many consumers signed up.
Comcast said the company had "seen strong early participation."
There are 33.2 million households eligible for the subsidy
that already qualify for an existing program called Lifeline
funded through surcharges on phone services.
AT&T said in January if only half of those Lifeline-eligible
households take advantage of the emergency benefit, the new
broadband program would cost as much as $800 million a month.
One big question remains whether Congress will choose to
extend the program once funding runs out and how it would pay
(Reporting by David Shepardson
Editing by Kirsten Donovan and Grant McCool)