FCC Works to Increase Broadband Subscribership in Federal Housing
Wednesday, August 10, 2022
FCC Works to Increase Broadband Subscribership in Federal Housing
Over 10 million people living in 5.2 million households rely on some form of federal rental assistance. Every household that receives federal public housing assistance is eligible to participate in the Federal Communications Commission's Lifeline program and, by extension, the FCC's Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP). But as of July 1, just over 518,000 ACP-enrolled households indicated they were eligible because they participate in federal public housing assistance. To improve awareness of and enrollment in the Affordable Connectivity Program by people receiving federal public housing assistance, the FCC is launching a new pilot program called Your Home, Your Internet.
Your Home, Your Internet
The FCC is setting aside $10 million for Your Home, Your Internet, including: 1) $5 million for grants to up to 20 pilot participants, which may include government entities and third-party organizations serving federal housing assistance recipients, from across the country and 2) $5 million for the FCC's own outreach activities and potential collaboration with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and other federal agency partners that work directly with federal housing assistance recipients. The goal is to reach and connect the households living in approximately 5 million available housing units subsidized by federal housing assistance.
Who's Eligible for Funding?
Federal housing assistance recipients live in a variety of settings across the country, from single-family homes to large, urban housing developments. And federal housing assistance operates through a web of public housing agencies and private landlords. The decentralized nature of federal housing assistance, the FCC concludes, requires an “all hands” approach to raising awareness among this group of qualifying households that are served by private and public entities across the country. And so, the FCC intends to select pilot participants operating in a variety of settings in order to generate information about what works in different kinds of communities.
The FCC is encouraging federal and non-federal organizations to apply to participate in the Your Home, Your Internet Pilot Program. Applicants may include federal agencies and their partners, housing agencies, and entities that provide Affordable Connectivity Program support for federal housing assistance recipients. The FCC encourages its federal agency partners—many of whom have promoted the Affordable Connectivity Program thus far—to singularly or in coordination with other partners submit applications for the pilot program with ideas and proposals designed to ensure that households participating in public housing or receiving federal housing assistance are provided with information about the Affordable Connectivity Program, including application and enrollment information. In addition to federal agencies, the FCC is urging state, local, and Tribal housing agencies and non-profit and community-based organizations working with federal housing assistance recipients to apply to participate in Your Home, Your Internet.
What is the Funding For?
The pilot program will support a number of activities. But the FCC is explicit in asking that applicants for funds be creative in developing proposals to connect with eligible but so far unreached households living in public housing or receiving federal housing assistance. With that in mind, the FCC outlines some activities the pilot program will support including:
Electronic and Downloadable Content
Easily-shared materials that promote the Affordable Connectivity Program to people who receive assistance from federal housing assistance programs, including materials in languages other than English.
One important goal of the Your Home, Your Internet Pilot Program is to identify methods to decrease the amount of time and effort needed to sign up for the Affordable Connectivity Program, while at the same time protecting the integrity of the program.
Pilot partners would be given limited access to the National Verifier(1) so they can better help people in federal housing assistance programs navigate and enroll in the Affordable Connectivity Program. The FCC expects to grant access to neutral, trusted government entities such as state and local housing agencies, Tribally Designated Housing Entities, associations representing multiple Tribally Designated Housing Entities(2), or other state, regional, and local government entities or their partners which could include tenant associations, non-profits, and community-based organizations(3). The FCC stresses that application assistance must be neutral, meaning someone participating in the pilot project may not, when assisting applicants, direct consumers to a specific Affordable Connectivity Program service provider’s website or otherwise recommend a specific Affordable Connectivity Program provider. Pilot participants assisting consumers with the application may, however, refer consumers to a list of providers offering Affordable Connectivity Program service in their area. Organizations participating in the pilot may co-host events with providers, so long as the organization maintains neutrality and does not favor a particular provider or restrict participation in events to particular providers if multiple ACP providers serve the area.
The FCC also encourages pilot applicants to consider as part of their proposals “train the trainer” events or webinars to educate housing organizations, government agencies, and other authorized partners about the application and enrollment process and to answer their questions about the program.
The Application Process
Although the FCC has set out general parameters for the Your Home, Your Internet Pilot Program, there's still much to be done to stand up the new effort. The FCC's Wireline Competition Bureau will establish:
- an application window during which interested entities seeking approval to participate in the pilot program will receive guaranteed consideration of their submitted application, and
- an application review process.
Interested entities will be required to submit a detailed proposal explaining their plan. Applicants should be prepared to submit, at a minimum, information about any partnerships; the geographic areas (including whether rural, urban, Tribal, or other) and constituencies the entity intends to serve (including estimates of the number of eligible households with which the entity would engage); housing or other state, local, or Tribal agencies with which the entity works; and to provide a description of the entity’s role in the community which it is serving. Tenant associations, non-profits, and community-based organizations should also include information about the government entity providing support for their partnership as well as describing the nature of the partnership.
The FCC's goal is to select applications that target areas with lower program participation rates and areas where application assistants or navigators will have the most impact on addressing barriers federal housing assistance recipients face when navigating the Affordable Connectivity Program application. The Wireline Competition Bureau will review applications and select entities to participate in the pilot program in a manner that ensures a geographically diverse group of pilot participants, representing both urban and rural areas.
By October 7, the Wireline Competition Bureau will issue a public notice announcing the pilot application requirements and the deadline for submitting applications during the window. In order to increase the chances of attracting a diverse variety of applications, the application window will be open for no fewer than 28 days. Interested entities should not submit applications to participate in this pilot prior to the opening of the window.
Evaluating Your Home, Your Internet
Within six months of the conclusion of the Your Home, Your Internet Pilot Program, the Wireline Competition Bureau will report on the efforts to facilitate the Affordable Connectivity Program application process for households receiving federal housing assistance. The report will describe the Your Home, Your Internet Pilot Program’s successes and challenges and include recommendations on further action to increase participation in the Affordable Connectivity Program among federal housing assistance recipients. In developing the report, FCC staff will consider the experience of the trusted entities granted access to the National Verifier and the impact granting this access to the National Verifier had on the number of qualified applications for those who receive federal housing assistance.
To that end, the FCC will collect data, including possibly via a survey, that measures the general public’s awareness of the Affordable Connectivity Program and information that could be used to measure program performance. Helpful data may include the number, location (city and state), nature of outreach, and type (local, state, Tribal, federal, non-profit, community-based organization, etc.) of trusted partners that participate in the pilot. Administrators will collect data regarding the number of applications started, applications completed, and subsequent enrollments of self-reported federal housing assistance recipients that have been assisted by trusted partners.
The FCC will track and collect appropriate data and to further develop metrics to determine progress toward the pilot’s goal of increasing awareness of and enrollment in the Affordable Connectivity Program among households participating in qualifying federal housing assistance programs. This data could include: the ratio of enrollments to qualified applications; the ratio of qualified applications to all applications; and the participation rate for federal housing assistance recipients and all households to measure any improvement in these metrics as a result of the pilot.
The FCC will identify ways in which program requirements, application and enrollment processes, and the ways in which the Affordable Connectivity Program is promoted can better serve federal housing assistance recipients.
FCC Moves to Improve ACP Application Process
In this order, the FCC also initiated steps to improve the enrollment process for ACP-eligible broadband consumers. The Wireline Competition Bureau and the Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC) will "expeditiously" facilitate more efficient ACP access for federal housing assistance recipients in general. The FCC will change its enrollment materials to include more recognizable language to describe federal public housing assistance eligibility so participants in the Native American affordable housing, public housing, housing choice voucher, and project-based rental assistance programs can more easily identify the program in which they participate. The FCC and HUD are revising their data-sharing agreement to allow more federal housing assistance recipients to be automatically approved for the Affordable Connectivity Program through the National Verifier. Additionally, the FCC and USAC will expedite the manual review process and test the effectiveness of these actions during the pilot program. Finally, the FCC has asked USAC to designate a direct point of contact for organizations selected to participate in the Your Home, Your Internet Pilot Program; this contact will provide additional support when pilot participants are assisting consumers during the application process.
The FCC took an important step this week to increase broadband adoption in public housing. But much more work needs to be done by FCC bureaus to stand up this new program to aid partners who can help drive Affordable Connectivity Program awareness and participation.
These efforts will make connectivity affordable for millions of people who are currently participating in federal housing assistance programs such as the Native American affordable housing programs, public housing, the housing choice voucher program (also known as Section 8 vouchers), and project-based rental assistance. In the coming months, we could well see long-term connectivity solutions for our most vulnerable neighbors.
- The National Verifier is designed—well, in theory, at least—to ease the qualification process by leveraging connections with state and federal database connections. It is a system of systems with connections to state and federal eligibility databases that can automatically check and confirm a household’s eligibility electronically, followed by manual review of eligibility documentation for any applicants whose eligibility cannot be verified using an automated data source.
- As sovereign nations, Tribal Nations are the direct recipients of federal funding from the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development. Each Tribal Nation designates an entity to administer its housing programs with these federal dollars. Referred to as a Tribally Designated Housing Entity, or TDHE, the organization may be a department within the Tribal Nation, Tribal housing authority with separate board of commissioners, or a nonprofit organization.
- Of note, the FCC will provide further details but enrollment activities through the National Verifier must take place in the government entity’s facility or other location or setting maintained or operated with support from the government entity.
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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