How is the Affordable Connectivity Program Performing?
Friday, July 21, 2023
How is the Affordable Connectivity Program Performing?
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 July 17-21
Last Wednesday, the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society hosted an "Ask Me Anything" webinar on our Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) Enrollment Performance Tool. During the webinar, Revati Prasad, Benton Institute Director of Research and Fellowships, John Horrigan, Benton Senior Fellow and developer of the ACP Tool, and Elena Saltzman, Civic Nation's Director of Campaigns, talked about program performance, how to best focus ACP outreach and enrollment efforts, and fielded questions by those in the virtual room.
Essentially, the tool is a resource for any community that wants to answer the question: “How are ACP sign-ups going?” In case you missed it, here are the highlights of the event.
How Does the ACP Tool Work?
The Affordable Connectivity Program Enrollment Performance Tool—developed by John Horrigan, Brian Whitacre, Professor and Neustadt Chair in the Department of Agricultural Economics at Oklahoma State University, and Hernan Galperin, Associate Professor at the USC Annenberg School for Communication—allows users to see how ACP sign-ups are going, comparing the actual number of ACP enrollees to the predicted enrollment for the area. The performance metric can help broadband planners and digital equity practitioners target enrollment efforts where they are most needed. Users can search a 5-digit zip code on the tool’s website, and receive results that show two important numbers for the zip code area: 1) how many households have signed up for ACP (from government data); and 2) the expected number of households enrolled (the output from the tool's statistical model).
"Roughly 19 million households have enrolled in the ACP program to date," said John Horrigan. "And that is close to 40 percent of eligible households."
The ACP tool compares predicted enrollment to actual enrollment. The difference between the two, according to John Horrigan, is the measure of performance. This performance level can be thought of as a proxy for digital inclusion capacity in a particular area.
"You can go to almost any city and develop a tale of two zip codes, which is to say you can look at two zip codes often close to one another geographically, often with very similar demographic characteristics," he said. "But when you look at the ACP performance tool numbers, they may have very different performance metrics. One zip code may be signing up more households for ACP than predicted. Another zip code may be signing up fewer households than predicted. And the question is, why? The tool can help stakeholders focus that question on particular areas and see whether, for example, the area that's overperforming has existing digital inclusion, capacity, and community [outreach]."
Horrigan announced at the event that he has updated the ACP Tool so enrollment data is current through April 2023, and is in the process of updating the tool to show ACP performance by city.
Measuring Community Impact
The ACP Tool serves a variety of purposes beyond just a performance percentage; in particular, the tool helps to capture the role of community anchor institutions in helping to increase ACP enrollment in their communities.
"Something we bring into the model that I think is cool is an effort to capture the role of anchor institutions," said Horrigan. "We do this by having data on whether a particular zip code area has a public library branch in it. The presence of libraries is associated with a six percent increase in performance. So, anchor institutions have something to do with performance in ACP enrollment and so does outreach."
Elena Saltzman highlighted findings about community-based outreach from Civic Nation's recent pilot program and subsequent ACP Pilot Report. From December 2022 to February 2023, Civic Nation provided pilot grants to five community partners to start new on-the-ground ACP outreach and enrollment programs in Michigan, South Dakota, Texas, Tennessee, and Pennsylvania. Over a 12-week period, these pilot grantees:
- Educated 39,335 community members about the ACP,
- Had 2,708 one-on-one conversations about ACP,
- Helped 417 people start their ACP applications,
- Helped 210 people get fully enrolled in ACP, and
- Saved their communities $75,000 on internet bills.
"One thing we were really curious about is how much outreach does it take to get how many people enrolled? We found that about 15 percent of the people that our grantees had conversations with about the ACP ended up starting an ACP application," said Saltzman. "And about half of the folks who started an application with one of our grantees were able to get fully enrolled and have their benefit applied with the internet provider by the end of the pilot."
One crucial part of ACP outreach, according to Saltzman, is having a really strong enrollment pipeline. It is about being with eligible households every step of the way, from that initial conversation of interest to working with them to apply. Across all five communities, this was the key to success. A couple of strategies are most effective in establishing this process.
"Talking to folks in person at community events and working with partners to have office hours or walk-ins at anchor institutions or with other community partners, particularly working with schools and parents, was really effective," said Saltzman. "So is doing personal phone calls to community members that you already have a relationship with. These were all really, really effective tactics. A little less effective are social media, sending out mailers, and cold knocking on doors."
Civic Nation's pilot program shows that one key to boosting ACP enrollment is utilizing community structures and connections that are already in place, and working with them on how they can use their influence to make an impact when it comes to broadband access and affordability.
"It's about meeting folks where they are," Saltzman said.
Finding Success With ACP Enrollment Efforts
Somos Tejas is a nonprofit working in Latino communities in Dallas, Texas that participated in the Civic Nation pilot program. Somos Tejas boosted their ACP work by doing outreach at community events like participating in local health and career fairs, speaking at partner organizations’ events, setting up a table outside community theater performances, and passing out flyers at a parade.
Over a 12-week period, Somos Tejas spoke with community members at 29 different events. The key to their success, Saltzman said, was creating a tight system for doing applicant intake, appointments, and follow-up.
During the event, John Horrigan and Elena Saltzman walked through the performance data for Dallas, Texas, one community where Civic Nation also held its ACP pilot program.
"The first thing you see is that in Dallas, the performance is high," said Horrigan, highlighting one Dallas zip code on the ACP Tool. "What that means is the tool predicts that about 7,100 households should be enrolled in ACP, but actual enrollment is around 8,200 households in this particular zip code. That means more households have enrolled in the tool than predicted and performance is high."
Horrigan said that this shows that outreach initiatives like Civic Nation's pilot program are already generating results in ACP enrollment, and can be seen in the data.
"This shows that outreach seems to have made a difference in Dallas. And if you're a stakeholder, not only can you understand performance, which is very high, but you can get a bunch of other data points that might be of interest to you as you plan for digital inclusion outreach," said Horrigan. These other data points can include the percentage of households that are rent burdened, the percentage of foreign-born, the percentage of households with annual income under $15,000, and more.
In Sioux Falls, South Dakota, the organization South Dakota Voices for Peace (SDVFP) helped enroll community members in ACP by hosting regular office hours at the downtown library and creating partnerships with several different community centers, after-school programs, and public schools. At Hawthorne Elementary, the district’s only Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) school–where the entire school is eligible for free and reduced-price lunch–SDVFP worked with the principal to set up a table for ACP sign-up at parent-teacher conferences. The school sent flyers home with students ahead of time to let parents know they’d be there, so several parents came to the conference prepared with their documents, and even more called them for more information after seeing the flyers.
The relationship between local organizations and community anchor institutions in South Dakota was a vital part of the enrollment efforts in Sioux Falls. Saltzman says it is about finding ways to focus your capacity on who needs the most help, which is something that the ACP Tool can help with.
"I think a great way to use this tool would be to figure out which areas that you work in are ripe for this kind of deep engagement," she said.
In both Sioux Falls and Dallas, tackling the language barrier was a critical part of Civic Nation's work. And from community to community, this can still look different.
"We found that doing work in multiple languages was really key," said Saltzman. "A key group of folks who are being left out of ACP enrollment are folks for whom English is not their first language...There was a huge amount of work in Sioux Falls with recent refugee communities in particular; and with the group that we worked with in Philadelphia with Asian American communities. Being able to do work in different languages was such a huge part of the success that some of these groups were able to have."
Walking through some of the data in Sioux Falls, Horrigan reiterated that this kind of sustainable community outreach does affect ACP enrollment and performance.
Where Do We Go From Here?
At the conclusion of the event, Horrigan and Saltzman shared insights regarding trends in ACP performance they found through the ACP Tool. The biggest one: community matters.
"It's not just about the individual decision to sign up. The context around people matters a great deal," said Horrigan.
"The quantitative data and the qualitative data show that the ACP is working, it's helping the folks that need it," said Saltzman.
In John and Elena's closing remarks, they reminded the audience that, while ACP is bringing broadband to millions of people every month, more funding is needed to continue the program past mid-2024, when current funding is expected to run out. All participants of the event acknowledged that ACP is a valuable tool to close the digital divide.
Download the Data
The Benton Institute for Broadband & Society is making ACP Enrollment Performance Tool results data available free for downloading. Click here and you will be asked to fill out a short form. Learn more about how the tool was put together here and here.
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ICYMI from Benton
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July 25––Former FCC Chairs' Symposium (FCC)
July 25––Learn How Communities are Promoting the ACP from Local Leaders (Next Century Cities)
July 26––The Future of Broadband: Funding, CX, Marketing, Leadership (Telecompetitor)
August 17––Technological Advisory Council (FCC)
August 20––Fiber Connect 2023 (Fiber Broadband Association)
Sept 27-28––Oregon Infrastructure Summit (Business Oregon)
Oct 2-6––Digital Inclusion Week 2023 (NDIA)
Nov 15-17––U.S. Broadband Summit (Fierce)
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