States are Relying on the Federal Affordable Connectivity Program to Close the Digital Divide

Benton Institute for Broadband & Society

Tuesday, September 12, 2023

Digital Beat

States are Relying on the Federal Affordable Connectivity Program to Close the Digital Divide

With the common aim of ensuring that all people and communities have the skills, technology, and capacity needed to reap the full benefits of our digital economy, each of the 50 states is currently drafting a digital equity plan through what one official called “the largest demonstration of participatory democracy that our country has ever seen." The states are tasked with developing long-term objectives for closing the digital divide by addressing the needs of eight "covered populations"—including low-income households.

In the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021, a law signed by President Donald Trump in late December 2020, Congress established the Emergency Broadband Connectivity Fund with $3.2 billion and charged the FCC with creating the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program (or EBB). On November 15, 2021, Congress created the Affordable Connectivity Program (known as the ACP) to replace the EBB Program. ACP is a long-term, $14 billion program that provides eligible households with a $30/month discount on broadband service and a small, one-time subsidy for a connected device like a computer or tablet. Households are eligible for the ACP if their annual income is 200 percent or less than the Federal Poverty Guidelines.

Several states have released their draft digital equity plans and one tool they all rely heavily on for connecting—and keeping connected—low-income households is the ACP.

Louisiana is already a national leader in ACP enrollment. Over 50 percent of eligible Louisianians participate in ACP while the national average is just 37 percent. Over 490,000 households in Louisiana currently rely on the Affordable Connectivity Program. But to eliminate the digital divide, the state aims to increase ACP enrollment. In its digital equity plan, ConnectLA set a short-term goal of increasing ACP enrollment to over 635,000 and a long-term goal of 980,000 enrollees.

Through a statewide survey, the Montana Broadband Office learned that affordability was the second most commonly cited reason (after availability) for not having adopted high-speed internet. The office identifies ACP enrollment as a key strategy to help address the affordability gap for Montanans. The state's draft Digital Opportunity Plan proposes increasing awareness and assisting eligible households in the ACP enrollment process.

Hundreds of thousands of Utah residents face barriers to accessing the internet including the 16 percent of people in the state who have an annual income below 150 percent of the federal poverty level. Many need affordable internet service choices and useful devices to access the internet. And the Utah Broadband Center has found that the single most impactful affordability asset currently available to Utahns is the ACP.

Approximately 39 percent of West Virginian households qualify for the ACP compared to 36 percent of all households nationwide. As of May 2023, over 103,000 West Virginia households were enrolled in ACP. The West Virginia Department of Economic Development (WVDED) is aiming to have 250,000 eligible households enrolled in ACP by 2028.

Wyoming’s vision for digital equity is to ensure that every citizen and business can connect to and effectively use affordable, reliable, and future-proof broadband. The second part of this vision—affordability—relies on the ACP. The Wyoming Broadband Office aims to increase internet service provider participation in the ACP, raise awareness among eligible households, and increase enrollment in the program.

Over 20 million households are currently relying on the ACP to keep them connected to all the vital services made possible by broadband including education, healthcare, and job searches and applications.

However, estimates from the Federal Communications Commission project that funding for the ACP could run out within the next year.

FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel told Congress back in June, "I strongly support funding the Affordable Connectivity Program into the future to help more families get and stay connected to the high-speed internet they need to participate in modern life."

In August 45 Members of Congress—Republicans and Democrats—urged leadership in the House and the Senate to extend ACP funding. "Congress has a role in ensuring that high-speed and reliable broadband is accessible to every household, nationwide," they wrote. "We cannot afford to let millions of Americans lose access to broadband."

As Congress returns to Washington this week, states are watching to see if policymakers address the future of ACP and the affordability side of the digital divide.

States are banking on the Federal Communications Commission's Affordable Connectivity Program to ensure broadband is affordable for their low-income residents. But with funding dwindling, the future of the program remains uncertain. This week we are spotlighting the role ACP plays in states’ digital equity plans to achieve universal broadband. 

Louisiana is Depending on the ACP to Eliminate the Digital Divide

ACP Key to Montana's Digital Opportunity Plan

The Single Most Impactful Affordability Asset Currently Available to Utahns is the ACP

West Virginia's Vision for Digital Plan Depends on the Affordable Connectivity Program

Wyoming Relying on ACP for Affordable Broadband

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
1041 Ridge Rd, Unit 214
Wilmette, IL 60091
headlines AT benton DOT org

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