Low-income households are spending too much on connectivity. Prior to the pandemic, the Federal Communications Commission’s Lifeline program supported mainly wireless communication services for low-income households; its $9.25/month subsidy resulting in service plans that restricted voice and data usage. To address Americans’ online connectivity needs during the pandemic, Congress directed the FCC to launch the Emergency Broadband Benefit (EBB) program—a historic expansion of financial support for universal service.
As Congress found in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, access to affordable, reliable, high-speed broadband is essential to full participation in modern life in the United States. The aim of the Affordable Connectivity Program is to ensure broadband is affordable for any household no matter its income. Although the Federal Communications Commission has met an incredibly tight timeline to adopt rules and launch the new Affordable Connectivity Program, there is still a great deal of work to be done. Here's a quick look at what remains on the FCC's agenda.
Congress created the Affordable Connectivity Program through the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, building on the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program created earlier in 2021. For the EBB Program, Congress provided the Federal Communications Commission with $3.2 billion to make monthly broadband service bills more affordable for low-income households. The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act adds an additional $14.2 billion for the Affordable Connectivity Program, while leaving in place the EBB Program's basic framework.
Rosenworcel & Davidson: With Leadership in Place, NTIA and FCC Must Now Work Together to Close the Digital Divide
On January 11, the U.S. Senate voted 60-31 to confirm the nomination of Alan Davidson to be the Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Communications and Information. Once sworn in, Davidson will lead the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), which is President Joe Biden's principal adviser on telecommunications and information policy.
In November 2021, President Joe Biden signed into law the largest U.S. investment ever in broadband access, affordability, and adoption. With $65 billion flowing to broadband, Congress also asked the Federal Communications Commission to determine what impact the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act will have in achieving universal service goals for broadband. This week, the FCC launched a proceeding seeking public comment on how to best make sure everyone in the U.S. can use broadband.
Understanding affordability of internet service and its role in adoption are crucial for developing solutions to close the digital divide.The goals of this study were first to understand the barriers to connectivity and efficacy of low-cost internet service options; and second, to use the findings to inform digital inclusion policies, advocacy efforts, and other initiatives that aim to drive digital equity. The findings were informed by a national survey on broadband adoption among low- and lower-middle income households.
How will the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act impact universal service policy and, specifically, the Lifeline program? The new law sets up a transition from the Emergency Broadband Benefit, a program that is only six months old, to the new, more permanent Affordable Connectivity Program.
Since the Emergency Broadband Benefit launched in May 2021, enrollment has grown steadily. By the end of June, 3.1 million households had enrolled, a figure that rose to 7.4 million by the beginning of November. Analysis of the geography of this growth shows that it was not evenly distributed. South Florida, Detroit, Chicago, and New York City have all seen very strong growth in enrollment since June. In the Los Angeles area, more than 100,000 additional households have signed up since then.
The Benton Institute for Broadband & Society, Community Informatics Lab at Simmons University, and Black Brilliance Research Project (BBR) launched the six-city Digital Equity Action Research (DEAR) Fellowship. The DEAR Fellowship is a participatory action research program for young adults, ages 19-24, that helps examine how digital inclusion coalitions understand and address the root causes of digital inequities in their communities. The fellowship started in November 2021 and will conclude with a celebration and community event in mid-January 2022.