The Benton Institute ACP Performance Tool
The Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) is at an inflection point. Launched in early 2022, ACP provides 17 million households up to $30/month in subsidies to offset the cost of broadband. But the program faces two critical challenges. First, less than a third of eligible households currently participate in the program—mainly because the people who could benefit most from the subsidy are unaware that it exists. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC), local governments, and digital equity groups are stepping up efforts to improve ACP awareness and participation.
Half of ACP-Eligible Households Still Unaware of the Program
After a year of operation, half of all households eligible for the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) internet subsidy are unaware of the benefit. A January 2023 survey of low-income households finds that over 50% say they have never heard of the program or do not know anything about it. Although many eligible households are unaware of ACP, the survey points to ways in which policymakers and community leaders can encourage enrollment. First, outreach can make a difference.
It’s No Time to Disarm in the War Against the Digital Divide
The pandemic spurred policymakers and community leaders around the country to create programs to connect those without home broadband service or computers. These programs have had an impact. New government data show sharp increases in broadband and computer adoption in the 2019-to-2021 time frame. Initiatives such as the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) have helped address “subscription vulnerability” for low-income households. With progress evident, it is time to extend and build on the ACP and local affordability programs.
Affordable Connectivity Plan Enrollment and Digital Equity Planning
If the federal government’s investments in broadband connectivity are to be effective, different programmatic pieces must work together. Broadband infrastructure funds are necessary to ensuring universal access, but not sufficient to achieve full digital equity. Equitable broadband adoption depends on people having the financial means to maintain service, which the Affordable Connectivity Plan (ACP) facilitates, as well as access to wrap-around digital inclusion services (such as tech support and skills training).
Three Data Points to Help Plan for Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act Broadband Funding
As policymakers begin to plan how to use Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) funds to increase broadband connectivity, there are three important data points from two recent surveys to keep in mind:
- Some 32% of households are subscription vulnerable, that is, they struggle to maintain service and have a very difficult time affording service.
Only 18% of cellphone-only respondents were “very satisfied” with their online access for activities such as school or work, activities that moved online during the COVID-19 pandemic.
It is Time to Reimagine Lifeline
Low-income households are spending too much on connectivity. Prior to the pandemic, the Federal Communications Commission’s Lifeline program supported mainly wireless communication services for low-income households; its $9.25/month subsidy resulting in service plans that restricted voice and data usage. To address Americans’ online connectivity needs during the pandemic, Congress directed the FCC to launch the Emergency Broadband Benefit (EBB) program—a historic expansion of financial support for universal service.
Affordability and the Digital Divide
Understanding affordability of internet service and its role in adoption are crucial for developing solutions to close the digital divide.The goals of this study were first to understand the barriers to connectivity and efficacy of low-cost internet service options; and second, to use the findings to inform digital inclusion policies, advocacy efforts, and other initiatives that aim to drive digital equity. The findings were informed by a national survey on broadband adoption among low- and lower-middle income households.
An Evolving Level of Service
How will the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act impact universal service policy and, specifically, the Lifeline program? The new law sets up a transition from the Emergency Broadband Benefit, a program that is only six months old, to the new, more permanent Affordable Connectivity Program.
Growth in EBB Enrollment since June has been in Large Cities and Places with Low Broadband Adoption
Since the Emergency Broadband Benefit launched in May 2021, enrollment has grown steadily. By the end of June, 3.1 million households had enrolled, a figure that rose to 7.4 million by the beginning of November. Analysis of the geography of this growth shows that it was not evenly distributed. South Florida, Detroit, Chicago, and New York City have all seen very strong growth in enrollment since June. In the Los Angeles area, more than 100,000 additional households have signed up since then.
Action Needed Now to Preserve an Essential Lifeline During the Pandemic
Universal service is the principle that all Americans should have access to essential communications services, like phones and broadband. You may not have heard much about it, but a universal service crisis is right around the corner. Due to Federal Communications Commission inaction, nearly 800,000 people could lose phone service on December 1. On that day, changes in the FCC’s Lifeline program, which provides a modest monthly discount for communications services, mean that voice-only services like a home landline telephone and/or a cellphone will no longer be eligible for the discount.