Apply Now to Receive Support for Your ACP Outreach Efforts

Benton Institute for Broadband & Society

Monday, November 14, 2022

Digital Beat

Apply Now to Receive Support for Your ACP Outreach Efforts

On November 10, the Federal Communications Commission released a Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO), a formal announcement of the availability of grant funds to develop innovative outreach strategies to reach historically underserved and unserved communities, raise awareness of the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP), and help eligible individuals enroll in the program. Here are highlights of the NOFO for organizations that are already doing ACP outreach or for those who may be considering it.

The ACP and the Affordable Connectivity Outreach Grant Program

The Affordable Connectivity Program is a benefit program run by the FCC that helps ensure that households can afford the broadband they need for work, school, healthcare, and more. The benefit provides a discount of up to $30 per month toward internet service for eligible households and up to $75 per month for households on qualifying Tribal lands. Eligible households can also receive a one-time discount of up to $100 to purchase a laptop, desktop computer, or tablet from participating providers if they contribute more than $10 and less than $50 toward the purchase price.

To date, over 14 million low-income households participate in the ACP; however, a significant number of qualifying households have not yet enrolled. The FCC believes that to achieve the program’s full potential and reach as many eligible households as possible, households must be clearly informed of the program’s existence, benefits, eligibility qualifications, and how to apply. To accomplish this, on August 5, the FCC established the Affordable Connectivity Outreach Grant Program, which will provide eligible partners with grant funds to conduct outreach in support of the ACP.

The Affordable Connectivity Outreach Grant Program is comprised of four complementary grant programs. Here we focus on just two: 1) the National Competitive Outreach Program, which funds outreach activities to increase awareness of and encourage participation in the ACP for eligible low-income households; and 2) the Tribal Competitive Outreach Program, which funds outreach activities to increase awareness of and encourage participation in the ACP for households on Tribal lands. Tribal Competitive Outreach Program funds must be used solely to focus on ACP outreach and/or ACP application assistance activities to persons who live on qualifying Tribal lands.

The objectives of the Affordable Connectivity Outreach Grant Program are to:

  1. Expand and support diverse and impactful outreach efforts nationwide;
  2. Strengthen outreach partners nationwide by empowering them to mobilize people and organizations to help raise awareness about the ACP; and
  3. Increase ACP enrollment as a result of ACP Outreach Grant Program-funded activities.

Affordable Connectivity Outreach Grant Program Awards

How much funding is available?

The FCC has set aside up to $70 million in the NOFO for these two programs—$60 million for the National Competitive Outreach Program and $10 million for the Tribal Community Outreach Program. Seeking to support outreach throughout the country, the FCC has reserved $27 million of the $60 million in the National Competitive Outreach Program so that each state (including the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico) will receive a target minimum allocation of $500,000 and each U.S. Territory will receive a target minimum allocation of $250,000 for ACP outreach activities.

How many awards will be made?

The FCC anticipates making 200-400 awards of no less than $50,000 and no more than $1 million. 

Who's eligible for support?

The following are the entities that are eligible to apply for Affordable Connectivity Outreach Grant Program support:

  • State governments and subdivisions thereof (including the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico);
  • U.S. Territory governments and subdivisions thereof such as the U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, American Samoa, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands;
  • Local governments and subdivisions thereof (including county, borough, municipality, city, town, township, parish, local public authority, special district, intrastate district, council of governments, and agencies or instrumentalities of multi-regional, intrastate or local government);
  • Tribal governments and subdivisions thereof, as well as tribal organizations;
  • Public housing agencies; 
  • Tribal-designated housing entities;
  • Social service providers (e.g., food banks, community transportation, childcare);
  • Education organizations, such as schools and other institutions of higher education;
  • Workforce development training organizations;
  • Non-profit organizations (501(c)(3) status is not required);
  • Community-based organizations (including faith-based organizations and social service organizations);
  • Community anchor institutions;
  • Public service organizations; and
  • Consortia of the entities listed above.

States and U.S. Territories may choose to establish a single point of contact to coordinate among entities within the State or U.S. Territory that have relevant outreach responsibilities related to implementing the ACP Outreach Grant Program.

Of note, broadband providers and their subsidiaries, affiliates, representatives, contractors, and agents are not eligible to participate in the ACP Outreach Grant Program or receive grant awards, either as grantees, pass-through entities, or subrecipients. For municipal broadband providers, the exclusion of broadband providers and their affiliates, subsidiaries, or representatives from eligibility does not extend to separate arms of the municipality that do not maintain, manage, or operate the municipal broadband network.

How much do grantees have to contribute to the effort?

The FCC is not requiring cost sharing or matching funds. However, applicants that propose a cost match or cost share may have priority consideration, in the event of a tie, when making funding determinations. Cost share or cost match may be cash or in-kind contributions.

What activities are eligible for support?

  • ACP Application Assistance: In-person ACP application assistance support offered to ACP-eligible households. Note: Remote technical and application assistance support is not allowed.
  • Digital Campaigns: Execution of ACP marketing strategy on various digital and social media channels where ACP-eligible households are likely to engage. This includes but is not limited to social media, mass text messaging, phone banks, etc.
  • Outreach Materials: Development, printing, and distribution of infographics, fact sheets, flyers, newsletters, consumer handouts, and/or literature campaigns. This includes the in-language translation of outreach materials to reach diverse communities and making outreach materials accessible to individuals with disabilities. Note: The FCC will make available a toolkit of outreach materials that grant and subgrant recipients may leverage and tailor to their intended audiences.
  • Direct Mail: Development, printing, and distribution of direct mail to eligible households.
  • ACP Service Provider Locator: Provision of information to eligible households on how to locate ACP service providers serving in the areas where the outreach is performed.
  • Personnel: Compensation for personnel whose time was spent exclusively conducting ACP outreach activities and/or in-person ACP application assistance either in a part-time or full-time capacity.
  • Fringe Benefits: For personnel time exclusively spent on ACP outreach and/or ACP application assistance. 
  • Planning: Costs associated with the planning and execution of ACP in-person and virtual outreach events, workshops, campaigns, and activities to raise ACP awareness. Costs associated with the planning and execution of in-person ACP application assistance events. Light refreshments for in-person ACP outreach events must be included as part of the budget submission and approved by the FCC.
  • Travel: Travel to and from planned ACP outreach and/or in-person ACP application assistance events, including mileage, gas, and related travel incidentals.
  • Supplies: Information technology hardware or systems such as hotspots, tablets, computers, printers, etc. that will be used exclusively for ACP outreach and ACP application assistance. This cost is capped at $5,000 of awarded funds.
  • Project Management (Management & Administrative): Costs incurred in direct support of grant administration that are not included in the organization’s indirect cost pool (e.g., preparing and submitting programmatic and financial reports, establishing and/or maintaining inventory, responding to official information requests such as audits, monitoring pass-through recipients). This cost is capped at 5% of awarded funds.
  • Facilities Rental: Costs associated with facilities rental for ACP outreach and/or in-person ACP application assistance events. 
  • Indirect Costs: To ensure that most of the grant funding is targeted towards ACP outreach and/or in-person ACP application assistance, indirect cost recovery will be capped at 10% of awarded funds. Certain facility rental costs are allowable as a direct cost, as described above.
  • Paid Media Campaigns: Placement of ACP advertising directed to target audience on television, radio, billboards, local and regional newspapers, and other culturally relevant outlets.
  • Consumer Research / Focus Groups: Investigation of the needs of ACP-eligible households about services offered and the ACP application process. Gathering ACP eligible households to participate in a guided discussion about the ACP application experience.

Grant and subgrant recipients are expressly prohibited from favoring, directing, steering, incentivizing or otherwise encouraging households to enroll with a particular provider when performing grant-funded outreach activities. Grant and subgrant recipients must maintain neutrality among participating service providers or groups of service providers when conducting grant-funded outreach activities. Eligible households can be directed to the Companies Near Me Tool or be shown the list of ACP provider(s) serving the area. If there is only one service provider serving the area, the grant or subgrant recipient may inform the eligible household of that lone provider’s information.

Grant or subgrant recipients may supplement but are prohibited from supplanting (replacing) funds that have already been obtained or are expected to be received from other sources, such as federal, state, or non-governmental funding provided to carry out ACP outreach activities. Grant or subgrant recipients may not supplant funding from a participating provider or a specific group of participating providers (including, but not limited to, broadband industry groups such as trade associations) provided to carry out ACP outreach activities. To guard against supplanting, funding will be prioritized to new, innovative outreach efforts and not outreach efforts for which an applicant has funding or expects to receive funding from broadband providers or other sources. ACP Outreach Grant Program funding is intended for ACP outreach costs for which applicants and their expected pass-through entities do not already have or expect to receive other funding.

Affordable Connectivity Outreach Grant Program Applications

As the FCC stresses in this NOFO, registering and applying for an award under this program is a multi-step process and requires time (think one month) to complete. Organizations need to complete the preliminary steps outlined in sufficient time to ensure they do not impact their ability to meet the required application submission deadline. Steps discussed in detail in the NOFO include:

  • Obtaining a valid Employer Identification Number
  • Creating a Login.gov account, for a single sign-on registration, to then establish an organization registration with System for Award Management (SAM) SAM.gov
  • Registering in Grants.gov and adding an organization profile, or updating a registration
  • Assigning roles and access in Grants.gov
  • Starting an application in Grants.gov Workspace
  • Submitting the final application in Grants.gov. Special note here: All applications must be submitted through https://www.grants.gov. Applications or portions thereof submitted through postal mail, courier, email, facsimile (fax), or other means will not be accepted.

Obviously, the application process is not for the faint of heart. If you are interested in pursuing this funding, get started as soon as you can.

Evaluating Applications

Like the application submission process, the FCC will evaluate proposed projects in a multi-step review process that we can only outline here. The process includes checking eligibility and other factors. A merit review will evaluate applicants based on whether:

  • The applicant has demonstrated a clear understanding of the ACP, the community to be served, and the needs of the community that will be addressed through the proposed project.
  • The applicant describes how the proposed project will increase awareness of and increase ACP enrollment for eligible households.
  • The applicant’s intended impact is well-defined by geographic areas, constituency groups, individuals/ households, and communities with a low ACP enrollment rate.
  • The applicant has plans to meet one or more of the Program Objectives.
  • The applicant intends to share lessons learned with other entities.
  • Proposed outcomes and milestones demonstrate clear progress towards achieving the overall project within the period of performance.
  • Cost categories are allowable, reasonable, and appropriate.

In addition, there are bonus criteria including:

  • The applicant intends to target unserved low-income households or individuals that are not currently on a low-income broadband plan or that do not have broadband service.
  • The applicant intends to target communities that have a low ACP participation rate.
  • The applicant proposes a cost share or cost match.
  • The state or territory (including DC) has entered into or demonstrated commitment to enter into a computer matching agreement with the Universal Service Administrative Company.
  • The applicant has experience and success in conducting outreach regarding government programs and resources, particularly providing resources and directing services and education to people of color, persons with disabilities, persons who live in rural or Tribal areas, and others who are or have been historically underserved, marginalized, or adversely affected by persistent poverty or inequality.
  • The applicant has demonstrated existing relationships with target communities or has a thorough plan to readily develop those relationships.
  • The applicant has experience or capability conducting multilingual outreach, to include American Sign Language.

Timeline

With the release of the NOFO, the FCC is now accepting applications for the Affordable Connectivity Outreach Grant Program. All applications are due by 11:59 PM (EST) on January 9, 2023, 

The FCC anticipates selecting grant winners before March 10, 2023 and making awards by March 31, 2023. 

Awardees will be required to submit quarterly progress and financial reports beginning with activities between April 1 and June 30, 2023—those reports will be due July 30, 2023.

Affordable Connectivity Outreach Grants will support project activities between March 2023 and March 2025.

How to Get Help Applying

This article is only meant to serve as an introduction to the FCC's NOFO. There's obviously no substitute for reading the full document yourself to understand what is being asked of applicants and grantees. The FCC is making additional resources available to help potential applications:

Affordable Connectivity Outreach Grant Program – Fact Sheet

Affordable Connectivity Outreach Grant Program Notice of Funding Opportunity Frequently Asked Questions

Webinar to Discuss Affordable Connectivity Outreach Grant Program (November 15)

The FCC is staffed by incredibly helpful people who want to aid applicants. Reach out to any of the following.

FCC Grants Team

Miriam Yohannes Montgomery of the FCC's Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau ([email protected] or [email protected])

Direct grant management inquiries to: Joy Sears of the FCC's Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau ([email protected] or [email protected])

FCC Section 504 Compliance Officer Gerard Williams of the FCC's Consumer & Governmental Affairs Bureau ([email protected] or (202) 418-1505)

Systems Contact Information

Grants.gov

For technical assistance with Grants.gov, call the customer support hotline 24 hours per day, 7 days per week (except federal holidays) at (800) 518-4726 or email at [email protected].

GrantSolutions

For technical assistance with GrantSolutions, call the customer support hotline 8:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m. EST, Monday through Friday at (866) 577-0771, or email at [email protected].

The Benton Institute for Broadband & Society is a non-profit organization dedicated to ensuring that all people in the U.S. have access to competitive, High-Performance Broadband regardless of where they live or who they are. We believe communication policy - rooted in the values of access, equity, and diversity - has the power to deliver new opportunities and strengthen communities.


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Kevin Taglang

Kevin Taglang
Executive Editor, Communications-related Headlines
Benton Institute
for Broadband & Society
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