With nearly 13 million households enrolled in the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP), the FCC is planning to propose a new pilot initiative aimed at boosting signups among people receiving federal housing assistance.
Specifically, according to a draft order, the initiative will "test ways to increase ACP participation by recipients of federal housing assistance who are eligible for the Affordable Connectivity Program but, based on our experience, may not be aware of or enrolled in the program."
Called "Your Home, Your Internet," the proposed pilot program is intended to pair targeted outreach with application assistance and would be supported by the Affordable Connectivity Outreach Grant program, outlined in a separate draft order. For those grants, the FCC says it will allocate $5 million of its $100 million allotment designated for ACP outreach.
According to the draft notice, the FCC will select up to 20 pilot participants for Your Home, Your Internet. Applicants will be invited to propose ways to boost ACP enrollment among federal housing recipients, "including the development of new promotional materials, hands-on application assistance, and site-based outreach," writes the FCC.
Enrollment challenges go well beyond lack of awareness of the program. Some consumers are distrustful of Internet service providers (ISPs) and are better served getting information about the subsidy from community organizations and advocacy groups.
Others may have concerns about how enrollment in this program impacts other subsidies. For example, in May the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) took steps to inform more than 4 million HUD-assisted families that enrollment in ACP "does not count as income for determining family rent or impact their eligibility for HUD assistance."
Both the draft order for the Your Home, Your Internet program and the Affordable Connectivity Outreach Grant program are up for tentative consideration at the FCC's open meeting on August 5.
ABCs of ACP
The $14.2 billion ACP is one of the programs included in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act' (IIJA), which allocates $65 billion for broadband expansion. The ACP provides discounts on broadband service of up to $30 per month for eligible households (and up to $75 per month for qualifying tribal households).
As of July 18, the ACP had enrolled 12,972,734 households, including 185,158 on tribal land, with the program growing by roughly half a million new sign-ups monthly.
But research shows those numbers could be much larger, with up to 48 million households eligible to participate, or nearly 40% of the country.
In May, President Biden announced additional steps the White House was taking to boost ACP enrollment, including getting commitments from ISPs to offer ACP-eligible households high-speed Internet plans for no more than $30/month, as well as enlisting support from public interest groups and launching a new website GetInternet.gov, where consumers can get information about applying.
Getting those enrollment numbers up matters, not only for the consumers who need the subsidy now, but also for the longevity of the program. While the ACP was intended as a "permanent" version of the Emergency Broadband Benefit – a short-term subsidy created in response to the COVID-19 pandemic – that permanence will require continued funding beyond the $14 billion allotted. And funding could hinge on the program proving its worth.
"It has a finite amount of money, and it will run out. And so I think we have to have some legislation or policy that funds it," said Heather Gate, VP of digital inclusion at Connected Nation, one of the organizations that advocated for the ACP, in a recent episode of The Divide podcast. "Although we know that the bill made it permanent, that money was very specific, and it doesn't speak to how [the program] will be funded," she said.
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