Black Churches 4 Digital Equity Connects Communities to the Affordable Connectivity Program

Benton Institute for Broadband & Society

Friday, September 23, 2022

Weekly Digest

Black Churches 4 Digital Equity Connects Communities to the Affordable Connectivity Program

 You’re reading the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society’s Weekly Digest, a recap of the biggest (or most overlooked) broadband stories of the week. The digest is delivered via e-mail each Friday.

Round-Up for the Week of September 19-23, 2022

Grace Tepper

On September 24, Black Churches 4 Digital Equity is hosting its National Affordable Connectivity Program Sign-Up Day in 34 cities across the United States. The coalition aims to increase participation in the Affordable Connectivity Program, the Federal Communications Commission's broadband subsidy program, by community members of African American, faith-based institutions. Through this event, Black Churches 4 Digital Equity aims to raise awareness of faith-based institutions' efforts to help close the digital divide.

Black Churches 4 Digital Equity was launched in 2021 by the Multicultural Media and Telecom Internet Council (MMTC), a national, non-partisan, diversity nonprofit working to promote and preserve equal opportunity, civil rights, and social justice in the mass media, telecommunications, and broadband industries. Currently, Black Churches 4 Digital Equity includes 25 Black churches and Black church nonprofit organizations across nine states and the District of Columbia.

“We see it as a larger work, to educate church leaders about how the digital divide is shaping so many issues within our community and how they can be policy advocates and champions locally and nationally in these discussions,” says Dr. Fallon Wilson, Vice President of Policy at MMTC.

Black Churches 4 Digital Equity (BC4DE) originally got its start as an advocacy coalition focused on increasing participation in the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program, the federal broadband subsidy program that Congress turned into the long-term, $14 billion Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP). Through the Affordable Connectivity Program, low-income consumers can access a discount of up to $30 per month on internet access service for eligible households and up to $75 per month for low-income 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 internet service providers.

After the Affordable Connectivity Program was created, (BC4DE) shifted to advocate for more than just broadband access alone. Digital equity, as defined by the National Digital Inclusion Alliance and the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, is when all individuals and communities have the information technology capacity needed for full participation in our society, democracy, and economy.

Fallon Wilson, Ph.D.
        Dr. Wilson

“It's not just about the internet," says Dr. Wilson about BC4DE's work. "It's about digital upscaling. It is about having a larger narrative on how technology is changing the lived experiences for African American people in this country, and how our churches can be stewards of this new world for Black communities.”

African Americans in the United States are experiencing a much more severe digital divide. Seventy-one percent of Black adults in the U.S. have broadband internet connectivity at home compared to 80 percent of White adults according to Pew Research Center. Only 69 percent of Black adults have a computer at home, compared with 80 percent of White adults. And the National Skills Coalition reports that 50 percent of Black workers have limited or no digital skills, compared to 31 percent of all workers.

“African American churches are not new to this discussion of the digital divide," says Dr. Wilson. “We always understood the digital divide, but I think it became so glaring during the pandemic when church members could not get online."

BC4DE combines established faith-based community organizations with training on how to close the digital divide through its Black Churches for Digital Equity Fellowship Program. The program consists of monthly meetings with 25 church leaders across the country who represent various segments of the African American church. In each session, there is an educational component in which BC4DE teaches church leaders about the digital divide, digital equity, and how to combat barriers to broadband internet access. Together, they analyze data on digital equity using Microsoft's digital equity dashboard among other resources. They bring in guest speakers from different fields and backgrounds to share their work. And they train church leaders to be local advocates for equitable broadband access and inclusion.

“We want them to be champions locally," says Dr. Wilson. "That's the big piece of this. And from the top of the year, we have already connected them with their state broadband offices."

Many of the members of BC4DE's Fellowship Program are participating in the organization's National ACP Sign-Up Day on September 24. Black, faith-based institutions in 34 cities across the U.S. will be reaching out to their communities and encouraging members to sign up for the Affordable Connectivity Program.

Each church participating in the National ACP Sign-Up Day has been trained by the Federal Communication Commission's Affordable Connectivity Program team to help with applications and enrollment, according to BC4DE. The organization has created a specific resource, the Black Churches 4 Digital Equity Toolkit, for church leaders to use when supporting ACP sign-up and other digital equity issues. But outside of these resources, Dr. Wilson says each church-led event is running in the way best fit to its community.

“Beginning this Saturday, churches from across the country will begin enrolling their congregations and their community members into the ACP program," she says. "Each city presents a case study, in some ways. And how do you do this effectively for communities of color and how do you do it effectively through trusted community organizations like churches and temples and mosques? There are different case methods that we could use to make this effective and scale across the country.”

National ACP Sign-Up Day events fall into five categories, BC4DE says. First, churches are including Affordable Connectivity Program applications for enrollment at preexisting community events, such as food pantry initiatives or other need-based services run by the institutions. Second, churches are distributing Affordable Connectivity Program applications over a period of time and collecting them on September 24. Churches may instead be hosting a program application enrollment table in their parking lots of fellowship halls, where community members can gather to get more information and sign up.

Events with higher levels of preparation include running Affordable Connectivity Program enrollment fairs, which can include other activities that will attract people such as distributing backpacks for students, health screenings, or other programs. And churches are holding two-hour ACP application sessions where volunteers take community members page by page through the program application and help them fill it out in real-time.

Dr. Wilson says that in preparing for the day, churches have already communicated some difficulties with the Affordable Connectivity Program application. "The application itself can be an issue of digital inequity, where people don’t have the privilege of time to know exactly what it is or the privilege of having all your documents in one place, or if you’re living in a transient home because you don’t have a residence," she says. “I don’t want the application to be seen as an obstacle to digital equity."

Dr. Wilson says these events are the key to gathering important feedback on the application and what kind of outreach works or does not work for potential Affordable Connectivity Program participants. These experiences can translate into data on program efficacy and areas for improvement to further reflect the needs of real people in need.

“All the feedback on the application alone is worth its weight in gold,” she says. "It’s not about the quantity at this moment, it's about the quality and what data we could bring to tell the FCC that this [application process] is a problem.”

“My hope is that this is the beginning of a longer national conversation. About faith-based institutions being seen as appropriate anchors to deliver these services and resources."—Dr. Wilson

Black churches involved in BC4DE's National ACP Sign-Up day are collaborating with other local nonprofits, schools, officials as well as some federal officials to make their events happen. In Washington, DC, the Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church is partnering with local nonprofit charity and volunteer center Martha's Table for their Sign-Up Day event. Metropolitan AME used Microsoft's Digital Equity Dashboard to see which local communities are facing the greatest levels of digital inequity and found that to be DC's Southeast corner, where Martha's Table is headquartered. So the church is setting up its event there and partnering with the nonprofit, local schools, and government officials to raise awareness.

“Their church is centrally located downtown, but they took their work and their network all the way over to Southeast," Dr. Wilson says. "They connected with the local schools and said, how can we work together on this event and situated themselves with a known nonprofit who is known for doing community work. To me, that is ideal for how we really move the needle on getting people signed up for the ACP. It has to be that level of thought and care.”

At Metropolitan AME's event, there will be ACP sit-down sessions to walk people through the application. Local schools are participating to raise awareness amongst students and their families. And there will be food trucks, DJs, and laptop and iPhone giveaways for those who sign up for the Affordable Connectivity Program.

“They looked at the data, they saw the need, they made the partnerships, they're doing the work with the community and the schools," said Dr. Wilson. In addition, officials from the Federal Communications Commission, National Telecommunications and Information Administration, and other federal agencies are speaking at some of the National ACP Sign-Up Day events.

BC4DE will be continuing its advocacy efforts through October, including participating in Digital Inclusion Week run by the National Digital Inclusion Alliance. The coalition will also develop a report following its efforts in the coming months.

“Faith-based institutions can play a pivotal role as trusted institutions in this work of leveling and ending the digital divide," Dr. Wilson says. "We inaugurated our fellowship because we want faith-based institutions, not just Christian but multi-faith institutions to be seen as community anchor institutions for digital equity work."

To see if there is a BC4DE National ACP Sign-Up Day event near you, visit the BC4DE website for more information.


Quick Bits

Weekend Reads (resist tl;dr)

ICYMI from Benton

Upcoming Events

Sep 24—ACP Sign Up Day (Black Churches 4 Digital Equity)

Sep 24—Capital Projects Fund Grant Plan Deadline (Department of Treasury)

Sep 25-28—The Right Connection (CENIC)

Sep 26—Smart Cities Connect Conference & Expo (US Ignite)

Sep 26—From the Ground Up: Broadband Mapping By and For Communities (Benton Institute for Broadband & Society)

Sep 27—Internet For All: Wyoming Local Coordination Workshop (NTIA)

Sep 28—Local Coordination in NOFOs (NTIA)

Sep 29—September 2022 Open Federal Communications Commission Meeting (FCC)

Sep 30—Enabling Middle Mile Broadband Infrastructure Program Applications Due (NTIA)

Oct 5—Meeting of the Task Force For Reviewing the Connectivity and Technology Needs of Precision Agriculture in the United States (FCC)

Oct 6-7—Navigating the Funding Flood (Oregon Connections)

Oct 12—25 Years of E-rate: A Reception and Celebration (SHLB Coalition and SECA)

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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Benton Institute
for Broadband & Society
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