from the not-helping dept
As part of a recent COVID bill, the government recently announced that folks struggling economically during COVID would be getting some temporary help. Under the EBB (Emergency broadband Benefit program), U.S. consumers can nab a $50 discount off their broadband bill, or $75 if you live in tribal areas. The program ends when its $3.2 billion in federal funding expires, or six months after the government has declared an end to the pandemic.
It’s a useful but temporary band aid, and doesn’t really do much to address the regional monopolization and lack of competition that makes US broadband so perennially mediocre in the first place. Nor does it address the fact the Trump FCC gutted its own consumer protection authority because a bunch of telecom monopolies asked them to, using completely bogus justifications.
Under the program, the money is first given to your broadband provider, which is then in charge of ensuring you get the discount. But given these companies’ track record of dodgy behavior, it obviously didn’t take long for US telecoms to misbehave. Enter Verizon, which is using the program as an opportunity to upsell customers to more expensive plans. Users contacting Verizon to sign up were told the program didn’t apply to their existing plans, and in order to get the discount they’d need to sign up for more expensive service. The Washington Post politely points out this is rather sleazy:
“Verizon elicited the most ire from readers. It requires customers to call a phone line to register for the EBB, rather than just signing up online. And when you do, Verizon told some customers the EBB can?t be used on ?old? data plans, so they?d have to switch. That might be allowed by the letter of the law but certainly isn?t the spirit of the program.”
Granted this is the same company that tried to upsell California firefighters to more costly plans when their data allotment ran out during an historic wildfire, so this shouldn’t be too surprising. In short, knowing the subsidy was temporary, Verizon nudged users to more expensive plans so they’d see a revenue boost when the plan ended. U.S. regulators at the FCC didn’t do a thing. Fortunately Verizon reversed course after the Post story began circulating online:
“On Wednesday, two days after I initially published this column, Verizon reversed course and said it would accept old plans. ?We heard from some customers that they prefer to stay on the legacy plans they have,? it wrote in a blog post. ?Moving forward, we will offer customers on legacy Fios plans (no longer in market today) the ability to enroll in EBB.”
Needless to say the press shouldn’t always be the last line of defense against Americans getting ripped off, especially considering the increasingly tenuous financial situation the press finds itself in. You also wouldn’t need a COVID discount program in the first place if the U.S. hadn’t spent the last twenty years coddling regional monopolies, resulting in some of the most expensive prices in the developed world for broadband.