Free internet sounds amazing, and you’d think everyone who would qualify would be lined up, ready to get it, right? It turns out, not so much. But there’s a plan to turn that around.
The federal government’s Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP), administered by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), was launched in early 2022 to provide free high-speed internet to qualified households.
The program provides a discount of up to $30/mo. (and up to $75/mo. for households on qualifying Tribal lands) as well as a one-time $100 discount toward a laptop, desktop computer or tablet. The ACP partners with many internet service providers (ISPs) across the country who created $30 and under plans with a minimum of 100 Mbps download speed – fast enough for a family of four to video conference, stream videos and more.
However, only 14 million of the more than 48 million households that can qualify are receiving it.
There are a few reasons for this:
- Insufficient visibility and education about the program
- A complicated application process
- Miscommunications with the partner ISPs.
‘Your Home, Your Internet’ campaign to educate consumers
The “Your Home, Your Internet” pilot program is designed to raise awareness of the ACP among households receiving federal housing assistance through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
“Broadband is a necessity for American households, yet many HUD-assisted families lack access to reliable, affordable, high-speed internet,” said HUD Secretary Marcia L. Fudge.
“HUD is committed to ensuring that the people we serve have sufficient internet access for work, school, health care, and other needs.”
The FCC’s “new pilot program will make it easier for HUD-assisted families to access reliable and affordable high-speed internet.”
The FCC is using $5 million of the ACP’s budget to spread the word about the program and encourages nonprofits, state and federal government agencies and outreach programs to become involved in this pilot program.
“Pilot program applicants will be able to submit proposals for specialized ACP outreach efforts, including promotional materials that are directed to federal housing assistance recipients and organizations. Pilot participants also are encouraged to propose application assistance tools that the Commission will evaluate. In addition, the Commission has set aside up to $10 million to support pilot-related activities.”
State and national outreach efforts
State-level outreach programs and nonprofits have seen some issues with ACP enrollment due to the previously-mentioned lack of awareness.
They have answered with combined outreach campaigns, such as Internet for All Now in California, which is dedicated to helping consumers understand and making the application process as easy as possible.
According to its tracker, only 28% of California’s eligible households receive the benefit.
To increase that, the agencies involved hold events to sign up in person, provide a coordinator hotline, as well as provide language support, as reported by The Santa Rosa Press Democrat.
Across the nation, thousands of nonprofit organizations are doing their part to get the word out to those who need affordable internet options. In fact, June saw ACP Awareness Week, where organizations shared information across their platforms.
The Benton Institute for Broadband & Society shared that, “Groups like Asian Americans Advancing Justice and the National Hispanic Media Coalition have worked on translating educational materials, while the National Urban League, the National Digital Inclusion Alliance, and their affiliates have promoted the program all over the country.”
The “Your Home, Your Internet” campaign aims to provide grants to keep this outreach momentum going forward.
Navigating the application process
Internet access is critical if you need a job, want to attend a school or need to apply for any type of government benefits.
However, when you are struggling just to make it day-to-day, finding a place offering free internet and then navigating often-complex online aid applications may not be realistic.
To counteract the issue, the “Your Home, Your Internet” campaign calls for the FCC to partner with other federal agencies to help get the millions of low-income consumers to apply for the monthly internet stipend while the residents are already applying for housing or other governmental assistance.
The idea is to communicate trust in the ACP to low-income customers and to roll that service in with other services such as housing assistance. This is how other auxiliary programs work. For example, at the time of application for housing assistance, the representative helping with that application process will also look at other programs like Lifeline, to see if the applicant qualifies.
The FCC is “already working with HUD staff to explore establishing an additional connection with the Tenant Rental Assistance Certification System database that would allow more Federal housing assistance recipients to qualify automatically,” according to federalregister.gov.
Miscommunications with ISPs
If you go through the ACP site, you must also contact your local ISP to enroll with them. The FCC provides a list of participating internet providers in each state. This is another effort that is mainly online and may not be accessible to all who could benefit from the program.
The FCC hopes that having a coordinator through a local outreach program or in-person events will alleviate some of these pain points.
There also have been a few breakdowns in communication as people get verified through ACP and then reach out to their providers.
Fierce Telecom shared a firsthand account of someone having issues getting their provider to process their credentials.
They also reported that an “FCC representative noted issues can also arise when the information from the National Verifier system does not match the information given to the service provider. To ensure a smooth enrollment, details such as the consumer’s first name, last name, date of birth, Social Security number and National Verifier Application ID number must be the same.”
The Santa Rosa Press Democrat reported a person who was approved through the ACP application was then rejected by their ISP. An ACP representative had to get involved in mediating the issue.
The bottom line
Hopefully, as the new outreach campaign gathers speed across the country, more residents will sign up for help with their internet bill with the ultimate goal of shrinking the digital divide and providing all homes with affordable internet access. There are ways for you to help spread the word:
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Written by:Robin Layton
Editor, Broadband Content
Robin Layton is an editor with Allconnect. She works closely with the content team writers to ensure consumers get a fair and balanced reporting of the state of broadband services to help them understand the pro… Read more
Edited by:Camryn Smith
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