FCC Approves ACP Outreach Grant Program; Application to Open in 'Next Couple of Months'
With more than 13 million households now enrolled in the FCC’s affordable connectivity program, commissioners approved an order Friday establishing an outreach grant program to further boost participation (see 2207150063). Commissioners at the monthly meeting also adopted an order establishing a one-year pilot program to increase ACP enrollment among households receiving federal housing assistance and a notice of inquiry seeking comment on space innovation and operations.
The grant program makes up to $100 million available for recipients to spend over a five-year period. The FCC will release additional information later about the application process. Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said she's “thrilled that we have an opportunity to provide our partners with resources to get the word out about this program and make sure broadband reaches everyone,” noting the commission has already held more than 750 events promoting ACP.
“I am pleased that today’s decision now determines that we will prioritize applications that target households that are on no Internet plan at all,” said Commissioner Brendan Carr, who attended the hearing remotely due to “scheduling issues,” per his office. Carr noted the order also included a “$10 million set-aside for bolstering ACP participation within tribal communities.” The order also added a cap on administrative expenses, a commitment to using “objective measures,” and a prohibition on the use of “undisclosed” subgrant recipients, Carr said. The “most crucial factor for success will be the creativity and diligence of grant applicants and the careful staff that will supervise the winners,” said Commissioner Nathan Simington.
The Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau will take the lead on the outreach grants program with “policy guidance and advice” from the Wireline Bureau, Wireline Chief Trent Harkrader told reporters: “We want to make sure that we are making the best use of the grant funding.” Harkrader said the application hasn’t been finalized, but organizations should be able to begin submitting applications “in the next couple of months.”
Commissioners also approved an order establishing a one-year pilot program for up to 20 organizations to help households receiving federal housing assistance to apply for the ACP benefit. The $10 million program is a “fantastic deposit toward reaching those eligible households that receive federal housing assistance, but remain un-enrolled,” said Commissioner Geoffrey Starks: “We can and must do better.” Local governments "are most grateful to Chair Rosenworcel and the commissioners for the speed in which they have stood up the program," emailed Gerard Lederer of Best Best: "We are thrilled that both orders recognize the invaluable role local government can play as the commission’s partner in enrolling ACP eligible households.”
The comments cycle for the NOI, which seeks input on ways the FCC can help bolster the nascent in-space servicing, assembly, and manufacturing industry, should still be this year, the International Bureau said after the item's 4-0 adoption, which was expected (see 2208010035). Bureau Chief Tom Sullivan said the NOI was designed to be broad and is just part of a more-expansive, new space innovation docket. He said the commission is “open to other engagements from stakeholders” regarding other needs of emerging space operators.
The NOI comes as "the new space age needs new rules" and the existing FCC regulatory regime was designed for a time with far less space entrepreneurship, Rosenworcel said. With the NOI, the agency is "all in" on the national ISAM strategy rolled out in April by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, she said.
Simington said he got the NOI modified to include questions on the state of orbital debris removal technology. The approved NOI wasn't released Friday.
The updated FCC-NTIA memorandum of understanding on spectrum will be helpful in addressing problems that have occurred in the past, like the fight over the C band (see 2208020076), Rosenworcel told reporters. “The first thing you do is you memorialize how you want to resolve these disputes in the future,” she said. The MOU includes “a commitment to much more long-term spectrum planning, both at the principal level and at the staff level,” she said: “There’s an acknowledgment that spectrum policy issues are more than just the reallocation of federal airwaves -- there can be reallocations that affect other federal equities or adjacent federal spectrum. So we’ve expanded the discussion … and I think that’s going to help us a lot going forward.” Rosenworcel said the FCC will play a big role in putting together any national spectrum strategy. “There’s a lot of discussion at the principal level and the staff level about what that would look like,” she said: “We’re doing a lot of work to convey our thoughts as an agency. We are the agency that oversees commercial spectrum activity” in the U.S.
The 2.5 GHz auction can proceed regardless of whether the FCC’s auction authority is extended beyond Sept. 30, under Section 309(j) of the Communications Act, Rosenworcel said. “The only limitation is on the ultimate issuance of license,” she said: “It takes some time for us to conduct an auction and then some time for us to review the winning bidders. … That activity typically takes several months.” A long-term reauthorization would “provide stability for the agency,” she said. She also expressed hope some auction revenue will be allocated to support public safety and next-generation 911: “Using the auction of public airwaves to support public safety makes a lot of sense to me.” Carr said he hasn’t been surprised by the low numbers in the auction so far. The auction was at $150.6 million Friday after 11 rounds. “Context matters here,” he said. “This is a spectrum band that involves spectrum that’s already out there, already being used,” he said. The FCC still “needs to get more spectrum out there for 5G,” he said.