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Digital Inclusion

Affordable Connectivity Program Tools Show One in Four Applicants Newbies

Data reveal the program’s benefit is reaching the lowest income households

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Screenshot of Katherine Aquino during the webinar

WASHINGTON, August 18, 2023 – Roughly a quarter of applicants to the Affordable Connectivity Program did not previously have internet connection at home, said panelists at the National Digital Inclusion Alliance’s webinar on August 11.

Describing the statistic as a “surprising” revelation, Katherine Aquino, a data analyst at the nonprofit EducationSuperHighway, drew attention to her organization’s data tool, which tracks participation in the ACP – a program designed to provide monthly internet bill discounts of $30 and $75 to low-income Americans.

John Horrigan, senior fellow at the nonprofit Benton Institute for Broadband & Society, nodded to the data, adding that Benton’s ACP Enrollment Performance Tool also found the same implication.

The tool indicates a positive association between poverty level and ACP enrollment, meaning the poorest zip codes have some of the highest ACP participation rates, he explained.

“This should be good news for policy makers,” added Horrigan. “It means the benefit is reaching the target population the policymakers have in mind.”

The Federal Communications Commission announced on Monday that about 20 million households have enrolled in the ACP, which accounts for nearly half of the total eligible households. The agency also emphasized its ongoing outreach efforts to encourage a higher number of registrations for the program.

However, an enrollment uptake does not necessarily translate to good news.

Another ACP data monitoring tool developed by the advocacy group Institute for Local Self-Reliance paints a somewhat grim picture, estimating that as of August 2023, only approximately $6.3 billion in ACP funds remain out of the initially allocated $14 billion. 

Experts have also predicted the ACP will run out of funding in early 2024, depending on how fast new households would sign up for the program.

“There’s still maybe 63% of the ACP eligible households that are still not benefiting from a potentially $360 federal benefit that they could be receiving,” said Aquino.

Meanwhile, ACP’s future seems to hang in the balance as numerous calls for funding replenishment have met with a lack of response from the halls of Congress.

Quinn Nghiem studied communications and business at Villanova University, where she also participated in news reporting and video production for the university’s newspaper. Additionally, she covered economic and political issues for Vietnam Television, the national television broadcaster of Vietnam.

Digital Inclusion

Broadband Association Argues Providers Not Engaged in Rollout Discrimination

Trade group says telecoms are not discriminating when they don’t build in financially difficult areas.

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Image of redlining from historic map of the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation of Richmond, Virginia, from PBS.

WASHINGTON, September 18, 2023 – Broadband association US Telecom sent a letter to the Federal Communications Commission last week saying internet service providers don’t build in certain areas because it is financially difficult, not because they are being discriminatory.

The FCC proposed two definitions of digital discrimination in December 2022: The first definition includes practices that, absent technological or economic constraints, produce differential outcomes for individuals based a series of protected characteristics, including income, race, and religion. The second definition is similar but adds discriminatory intent as a necessary factor.

“To make business determinations regarding capital allocation, an ISP must consider a host of commercially important factors, none of which involve discrimination,” said the September 12 letter from USTelecom, which represents providers including AT&T, Verizon, Lumen, Brightspeed, and Altafiber.

“As the Commission has consistently recognized, such deployment is extremely capital-intensive…This deployment process is therefore subject to important constraints related to technical and economic feasibility” added the letter.

US Telecom explained that ISPs’ will choose to invest where they expect to see a return on the time and money they put into building broadband.

The association added that factors like population density, brand reputation, competition and the availability of the providers’ other services all go into deciding where broadband gets deployed.

“The starting point of the Commission’s approach to feasibility should be a realistic acknowledgement that all ISPs must prioritize their resources, even those that invest aggressively in deployment,” added the letter.

The association also highlighted the fact that it hopes to see as little government intervention in broadband deployment activity as possible, a concern that has been echoed by lobbyists before.

“Rather than attempting to use Section 60506 to justify taking extra-statutory intrusive actions that could paradoxically undermine ongoing broadband investment, the Commission must enable ISPs to make decisions based on their own consideration of the kinds of feasibility factors discussed above” read the letter.

Section 60506 of the Infrastructure, Investment and Jobs Act says that the FCC may implement new policies to ensure equal access to broadband.

The FCC is also looking to develop guidelines for handling digital discrimination complaints filed against broadband providers.

USTelecom said that ISPs should be allowed to demonstrate financial and logistical concerns as a rebuttal to those claims, in addition to disclosing other reasons for directing investment elsewhere to demonstrate non-discriminatory practice.

Reasons for investment elsewhere would include rough terrain, low-population density, MTE owners not consenting to deployment, zoning restrictions, or historical preservation review.

“To aid in the success of the Infrastructure Act and facilitate equal access, the Commission must continue to foster an environment conducive to ISP investment in the high-speed broadband infrastructure that Congress rightly views as central to our connected future,” concluded the letter.

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Digital Inclusion

FCC and HUD Partner to Promote Internet Subsidies for Housing Assistance Recipients

The effort is aimed at raising awareness about federal internet subsidies among housing assistance recipients.

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Photo of Marcia L. Fudge, secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development

WASHINGTON, August 18, 2023 – The Federal Communications Commission and the Department of Housing and Urban Development announced on Monday a partnership to promote the Affordable Connectivity Program to people receiving federal housing assistance.

The promotion efforts will include promoting the FCC program at public housing properties, joint enrollment events, and increased collaboration on messaging campaigns.

HUD Secretary Marcia Fudge touted the agency’s partnership with the FCC at a community event in Seattle, Washington, and encouraged residents to sign up.

The announcement comes a month after the launch of White House’s “Online for All” campaign, an effort to raise nationwide awareness of the ACP.

Part of the Infrastructure, Investment and Jobs Act, the ACP monthly discounts on internet service of between $30 for low-income American and $75 for Tribal residents.

The $14 billion program is serving more than 20 million households as of August 14, roughly a quarter of whom had no internet access at all prior to receiving ACP benefits.

A monitoring tool developed by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, a community advocacy group, estimates that $6.3 billion in ACP funds have been used up.

The remaining $7.7 billion is expected to dry up in 2024. Lawmakers have called for funding increases, citing the racial divide in internet access – 71% of Black households and 65% of hispanic households have broadband access, compared to 80% of white households –  that could worsen in the absence of ACP discounts.

The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, a nonpartisan think tank, released in July a report calling for Congress to eliminate old broadband subsidies that have been rendered redundant by the $42.5 billion BEAD program and divert the funds to the ACP.

“Public energy and time in this space would be much better served fine-tuning and scaling digital inclusion efforts than being obligated to lobby for a program whose continuation should be a no-brainer,” wrote Joe Kane, director of broadband and spectrum policy at the ITIF and author of the report.

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Digital Inclusion

State Leaders Set Sights on Long-term Digital Equity Planning

Digital Equity projects will be an ongoing effort for many states.

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Photo of Thomas Tyler

DENVER, Colorado, August 8, 2023 – State broadband leaders are focused on forging lasting relationships with stakeholders that will continue to engage in digital equity initiatives post Broadband Equity Access and Deployment funds, said state leaders at a Mountain Connect panel on Tuesday. 

Matt Schmit, chair of the Illinois Broadband Advisory Council, said that Illinois is working to achieve universal access for all residents in a sustainable way. The goal is to solve this public policy challenge once and for all, he said, referring to the digital divide between Americans who are connected to high-speed internet and those who are not. 

To do this, Illinois is forging partnerships with stakeholders and giving them the resources they need to continue digital equity work after BEAD funds have run dry. Digital literacy, cybersecurity, awareness, and adoption will be an ongoing effort for many states, said Schmit. 

Director of the Utah Broadband Center Rebecca Dilg added that Utah is working with community agencies on the ground that can help work with people and address digital equity concerns. She is hopeful that the money from the BEAD program will connect most, if not all, Utah addresses and expressed her hope that community anchor institutions will continue to support adoption beyond deployment.  

Utah’s broadband office has already met with “every” internet service provider in the state to ensure the office knows how to best address the needs of its residents, said Dilg. 

For Louisiana’s broadband office, the primary concern is improving the lives of the residents and the outcomes they can foster for themselves through better connectivity, said Thomas Tyler, deputy director for Broadband and Connectivity in the state. 

The BEAD program is the opportunity for Louisiana to change the quality of life for its residents and improve its economy, said Tyler. If residents start improving their lives, their careers, and their family situation, that is how we, as the Louisiana state broadband office, will know we succeeded, said Tyler. 

Louisiana is “moving as fast as possible” through the BEAD grant process, Tyler continued. The state was the first to release its digital equity and 5-year action plan in June and was the first to release the first volume of the BEAD initial proposal. The state is preparing to release volume two of the proposal in the next week. It will be open for public comment for 30 days. 

Tyler expressed his hope that Louisiana will be a leader for the BEAD program and that other states will use its plan as a springboard for their own plans. 

The BEAD program is accompanied by the $2.75 billion Digital Equity program, also authorized through the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. State officials agreed that it is essential that the BEAD program also accounts for digital equity goals. BEAD regulations allow for surplus funding to be funneled into digital equity initiatives after all unserved, underserved, and community anchor institutions are connected.  

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