Prodded by Congress, a few months back the FCC launched the Emergency Broadband Benefit, a $3.2 billion program designed to provide folks struggling economically during COVID a little extra help affording broadband. Under the program, users get a $50 discount off their broadband bill, a total that jumps to $75 for those living on tribal areas. As we’ve well covered, regional telecom monopolization and corruption results in Americans paying some of the highest prices in the world for broadband, a problem that hits low income consumers and marginalized communities the hardest.
While the program does little to fix US broadband’s bigger competition issue, it’s certainly helping folks; roughly a million folks signed up the first week. And while the majority of the 825 participating ISPs are engaging in the program in good faith, it’s not particularly surprising that some ISPs decided to try and game the system to make an additional buck. Charter, for example rejected users from signing up if they didn’t agree to pay for a more expensive broadband tier once the program ends, which appears to violate the program rules.
More problematic is Verizon, which got caught forcing users to sign up for even more expensive tiers if they wanted to apply to the program, resulting in some users being forced to pay more for broadband than if they’d never signed up for government help in the first place:
Not too surprising coming from a company criticized in 2018 for capping California firefighters’ “unlimited” wireless plan during an historic wildfire, then trying to upsell them to more expensive plans as they tried to battle the blaze. Only once the press highlighted Verizon’s latest COVID relief gamesmanship did they back away from it, issuing an odd press release pretending that none of this had ever happened, and any changes to their approach were entirely of their own making. The company has also been trying to do damage control at the FCC, claiming people didn’t experience the thing they clearly experienced:
Do you have a complaint about Verizon, such as hidden fees on your bill, lies by sales staff, or unsatisfactory service? Take your claim to FairShake, the consumer advocacy service.