How You Can Partner With the FCC to Improve Broadband Adoption
Wednesday, August 17, 2022
How You Can Partner With the FCC to Improve Broadband Adoption
To date, over 12 million low-income households participate in the Affordable Connectivity Program. However, a significant number of qualifying households have not yet enrolled in the Affordable Connectivity Program. The Federal Communications Commission 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, and 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 grant funds to conduct outreach in support of the Affordable Connectivity Program. Although a good amount of work is still needed before Affordable Connectivity Outreach Grant Program funds begin flowing to partners, below we look at the framework the FCC has adopted for this new effort.
What are the Objectives of the Affordable Connectivity Outreach Grant Program?
To facilitate the promotion of the Affordable Connectivity Program and increase awareness of and participation in the Affordable Connectivity Program among eligible households, the Outreach Grant Program has three objectives:
- Expand and support diverse and impactful outreach efforts nationwide to reach eligible Affordable Connectivity Program households, including, but not limited 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;
- Strengthen outreach partners nationwide by empowering them to mobilize people and organizations to help raise awareness about the Affordable Connectivity Program; and
- Increase enrollment in the Affordable Connectivity Program, particularly in areas served by the outreach grants, by underrepresented, underserved, and low-income households.
Who Can be a Partner in the Affordable Connectivity Outreach Grant Program?
The FCC will provide funding to outreach partners to engage in targeted outreach to low-income and diverse households nationwide both to gauge existing levels of Affordable Connectivity Program awareness and to promote increased awareness of and participation in the program by eligible households. Partners must be capable of conducting outreach, communicating or engaging with eligible low-income populations to inform or educate them about the Affordable Connectivity Program, increasing their awareness of the program, and encouraging or assisting them in applying for the program.
Outreach by a range of entities is critical to maximizing the impact of the Affordable Connectivity Program. The FCC is encouraging entities of all types and diverse organizations—including organizations serving, led, and/or owned by persons 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—to submit applications for the Outreach Grant Program when funding becomes available.
Governmental and non-governmental entities are eligible for the grant program, including, but not limited to:
- Tribal governments and subdivisions thereof, as well as Tribal organizations,
- State governments and subdivisions thereof (including the District of Columbia and U.S. Territories),
- 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 or intra-state or local government),
- Public housing authorities,
- 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,
- Community-based organizations (including faith-based organizations and social service organizations),
- Community anchor institutions (e.g., healthcare providers and healthcare organizations and libraries and library consortia),
- Public service organizations, and
- Consortia of the entities listed above.
Broadband providers and their subsidiaries, affiliates, representatives, contractors, and agents are not eligible to participate in the Outreach Grant Program or receive awards, either as grantees, pass-through entities, or subrecipients. Broadband industry trade associations are also not eligible to participate.
What Activities Will the Affordable Connectivity Outreach Grant Program Fund?
The Affordable Connectivity Outreach Grant Program will support a wide range of activities including, but not limited to, in-person events, literature campaigns, digital campaigns, and paid media campaigns that provide meaningful, effective Affordable Connectivity Program outreach tailored to targeted communities. At this time, the FCC declined to prescribe a comprehensive list of fundable outreach activities for the Outreach Grant Program. Additional information will be available at a later date. The FCC's intent here is to fund a wide range of outreach activities and provide grantees the flexibility to conduct outreach tailored to the specific community they are targeting.
Of note, grantees may not favor any particular service provider in performing outreach activities funded by the program. The FCC's intent is to protect eligible households’ right to choose their Affordable Connectivity Program provider and the type of broadband service that best fits their needs. So grantees may not direct, steer, incentivize, or otherwise encourage eligible households to enroll with a particular Affordable Connectivity Program provider or one of a specific group of Affordable Connectivity Program providers (including, but not limited to, broadband industry groups such as trade associations) when conducting grant-funded outreach activities, and grantees must make clear that eligible households may enroll with the Affordable Connectivity Program provider of their choice. In addition, grantees may not use service provider-branded items such as outreach materials, gifts, or incentives when conducting grant-funded outreach activities. Grantees also may not offer or provide consumers gifts or incentives provided by service providers when conducting grant-funded outreach activities. Such gifts and incentives could compromise the grantee’s neutrality with respect to Affordable Connectivity Program service providers and could also improperly influence eligible households’ choice of provider. Furthermore, grantees may not otherwise accept funding in any form, including in-kind contributions, from a participating provider or a specific group of participating providers (including, but not limited to, broadband industry groups such as trade associations) for the purpose of conducting grant-funded outreach activities.
How Much Funding Will Be Available From the Affordable Connectivity Outreach Grant Program?
The FCC's total budget for Affordable Connectivity Program outreach is $100 million over five years. The FCC authorized its Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau to designate up to $60 million for competitive allocation to eligible entities. Of the $60 million set aside for competitive allocation to eligible entities, $27 million will be reserved for states and U.S. territories, with a minimum allocation to grantees in each State and U.S. territory for Affordable Connectivity Program outreach activities.(1) The Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau will allocate an equal amount of funding for each state, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico, but may allocate a lesser minimum amount to the remaining U.S. territories. The Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau will designate a minimum of $10 million of the ACP outreach budget for competitive allocation to eligible Tribal governments and Tribal organizations, including Tribally Designated Housing Entities, to be used specifically for Affordable Connectivity Program outreach to persons who live on qualifying Tribal lands. The Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau will also set aside up to $5 million each, for a total of up to $10 million of the ACP outreach budget, for outreach grants specifically for eligible entities participating in either or both the ACP Navigator or Your Home, Your Internet Pilot Programs. [Eligible entities participating in both or either of these pilots are not limited to applying for that targeted funding, and may apply for a grant in any funding opportunity for which they qualify.]
The Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau will determine how quickly and in what amounts to disperse funding across the duration of the Outreach Grant Program. The bureau will determine the size of each grant awarded to each eligible outreach partner within the overall budget limit. Although details will follow later, the Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau may front-load the grant funds to maximize the impact of the outreach grants in the early years of the Outreach Grant Program where the need for outreach is likely to be the greatest. Due to a finite budget, growing Affordable Connectivity Program subscribership could mean the subsidy ends in just a few years.
Of note—program partners will not have a matching fund requirement for the Affordable Connectivity Outreach Grant Program.
When Will We Know More?
As noted above, there are still many details to be worked through in order to launch the Affordable Connectivity Outreach Grant Program. Much of that work falls on the FCC's Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau, headed by Bureau Chief Alejandro Roark. The bureau will provide additional details and initiate the application process in what's called a Notice of Funding Opportunity (or NOFO). The DC rumor mill suggests we can expect the Affordable Connectivity Outreach Grant Program NOFO sooner rather than later. [Headlines readers will be some of the first to know about the NOFO ;-) ]
- States and U.S. Territories may choose, but will not be required, to establish a single point of contact to, among other things, coordinate among entities within the State or U.S. Territory that have relevant outreach responsibilities related to implementing the Outreach Grant Program.
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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