FCC urges Charter, Cox, Starry to double down on ACP verification

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) wants to double down on the verification process for the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP). The agency on Thursday sent out letters to Charter, Cox and Starry requesting a subscriber eligibility crosscheck with the government’s National Verifier system.

According to the FCC, those three companies are the largest ACP providers using “alternative verification processes.” The Wireline Competition Bureau also asked the providers to submit an updated application by June 15, in which they must explain why they need to continue using those verification methods and why it is “sufficient to avoid waste, fraud, and abuse.”

The National Verifier, managed by the Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC), is a centralized application system consumers can use to apply for the ACP. Typically, applicants can prove they qualify via income or if they’re enrolled in a government assistance program, such as SNAP or Medicaid.

However, enrolling through the National Verifier can be tricky. According to Pew, USAC’s manual review process often consists of logistical challenges, such as addresses not being recognized or names that don’t exactly match up with the USAC’s database.

ACP guidance allows providers to verify household eligibility through their own method, but that option is only open to ISPs that already use a verification process for their own subsidized, low-income internet program.

In addition to sending letters to Charter, Cox and Starry, the FCC announced its Enforcement Bureau has begun an investigation into “inconsistencies and irregularities” in ACP enrollment verification.

The Wireline Competition Bureau has also urged the USAC to “increase and strengthen” its integrity reviews of alternative verification processes.

“As Congress evaluates the impact and success of the Affordable Connectivity Program, we are doing our part at the FCC to keep a close eye on all aspects of the nation’s largest broadband affordability program so it works as lawmakers intended,” said FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel in a statement.

The FCC’s latest move comes about a month after broadband industry groups urged Congress to allocate more funds for the ACP. Congress originally allocated $14.2 billion for the program, but that money is expected to run out sometime next year.

“Participating providers have a responsibility to ensure that program funds are supporting qualified households to get online and stay online, and doing so in compliance with the law and FCC rules,” Rosenworcel added. “Running this program which is benefitting millions of households is no small task, and requires consistent monitoring, evaluation and reflection, which we’ll continue to do.”

According to the FCC’s tracker, more than 18 million households are enrolled in the ACP as of May 15, including more than 255,000 tribal entities.