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FCC watchdog warns against broadband subsidy fraud

Some broadband providers are falsely claiming their customers have children who attend high-poverty schools in order to qualify them for an FCC broadband affordability subsidy, the agency’s Office of Inspector General warned in a November 22 memo.

It’s not the first time that the Emergency Broadband Benefit program has been targeted for fraud, but the timing could be significant as the FCC prepares to transition the program from a pandemic relief subsidy to the permanent Affordable Connectivity Program. One way to qualify for the subsidy is to have a child who is eligible for free or reduced-price school lunches. But under the USDA National School Lunch Program’s so-called community eligibility provision, those meals are available to any child who attends certain high-poverty schools and school districts, regardless of their family’s income.

An OIG analysis of enrollment data found that school-based eligibility “is commonly abused by providers and their sales agents as an entry point for fraud in the program. … In short, there are many more EBB-enrolled households that claimed they have a dependent child at certain [high-poverty] schools than students who are actually enrolled in those schools.” The memo also outlined other suspicious practices, such as dozens of households putting down a provider’s retail address as their home address.

The Wireline Competition Bureau said it would implement additional measures to verify student enrollment in eligible schools, such as by official school documentation, for both future applicants and current subsidy recipients. The agency also said it would refer bad actors to its enforcement bureau for investigation and recoup any funds that were improperly disbursed. Benton

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