ISPs not required to list ACP on broadband labels – FCC

With the FCC confirming April as the final month of full funding for the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP), a public notice now states ISPs 'will not be required to include information on the ACP' on broadband labels.

Nicole Ferraro, Editor, host of 'The Divide' podcast

March 5, 2024

4 Min Read
Consumer broadband labels (a sample, pictured) are set to debut just as the ACP runs out of funds.(Source: FCC)

Service providers will not be required to list information related to the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) on their broadband labels, according to guidance issued by the FCC's Wireline Competition Bureau (WCB) on Monday.

The guidance was issued in tandem with the FCC formally announcing that April will be the final month of full funding for the ACP.

The untimely ending of the ACP has created a series of conundrums and unanswered questions. One of those was how broadband providers were supposed to handle a requirement to list whether they participate in the ACP on federally mandated consumer broadband labels. The ACP is set to run out of funds just as those labels start to debut this spring.

Both the ACP – which provides a $30/month broadband subsidy for over 23 million low-income households – and the FCC's required consumer broadband labels were established through the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) of 2021, which contained $65 billion in broadband funding and related regulations around consumer protection.

But according to the WCB: "With the upcoming end of the ACP, providers will not be required to include information on the ACP in their labels."

However, it adds: "This guidance is subject to change should the funding status of the ACP change."

Related:ACP enrollments end today – now what?

Other notes from the guidance

With funding for the broadband subsidy program in limbo, the FCC stopped accepting new enrollments in the ACP on February 8. Now, without congressional action and as confirmed on Monday, the FCC will only be able to fully fund the ACP through the month of April.

That means a couple of things for providers.

For starters, said the WCB, providers looking to still provide a subsidy in May, "should plan to pass through only a reduced benefit to households that have opted-in to continue to receive broadband service after the end of the full ACP benefit," reads the public notice.

To that end, the bureau said to expect additional guidance this month to help providers "determine the amount they will be able to seek reimbursement for service provided in May 2024," which is the last month ISPs will be able to request reimbursements.

ISPs offering a partial benefit in May are also required to "provide written notice to those households that the benefit amount applied to the May bill may be less than the full ACP benefit the household has been receiving.

"Such written notices must also state that the household will be subject to the provider's fully undiscounted rates and general terms and conditions after the last bill that any partial benefit is applied," added the public notice.

Related:New ACP extension bill would fund program with $7B

As per the FCC, the next set of consumer notices are required to go out by March 19, 2024, advising ACP households that the program is ending and elaborating on the impact to their broadband service bills. Specifically, they must list: 

"(1) the date of the last bill on which the full ACP benefit will be applied and (2) the amount that the household will be billed for the service once the full ACP benefit is no longer available or that the household will be subject to the provider’s undiscounted rates and general terms and conditions after the end of the ACP," said the WCB guidance. "These consumer notices must also remind ACP households of their right to change their service or opt out of continuing their service at the end of the ACP."

Disruptions ahead

Meanwhile, according to survey data released last week by the FCC, the Commission found that 68% of ACP participants said they had "inconsistent connectivity or zero connectivity" prior to program's availability; with 80% of that group citing affordability as the prime reason. 

Further, more than 75% of ACP households said they expect their service will be disrupted if the ACP ends, due to their need to switch plans or cancel their service entirely.

Related:Majority of ACP households will see service disruptions if program ends – FCC survey

Nevertheless, the Affordable Connectivity Program Extension Act currently has the support of 15 Republican cosponsors in the House, and would pass with their votes plus all Democrats. The bill would temporarily fund the ACP with $7 billion. But hopes remain dim that the bill will come to the floor.

"It has become clear that the connectivity the ACP provides is vital," said FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel in a letter to members of Congress on Monday. "Accordingly, the Commission continues to stand ready to assist Congress with any efforts to fully fund the ACP into the future."

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About the Author(s)

Nicole Ferraro

Editor, host of 'The Divide' podcast, Light Reading

Nicole covers broadband, policy and the digital divide. She hosts The Divide on the Light Reading Podcast and tracks broadband builds in The Buildout column. Some* call her the Broadband Broad (*nobody).

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