Today, there is no expert agency ensuring that the internet is fast, open, and fair. Since the birth of the modern internet, the Federal Communications Commission had played that role. It makes sense. These are principles that have deep origins in communications law and history. After all, back in the era when communications meant telephony, every call went through, and your phone company could not cut off your call or edit the content of your conversation.
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"—incl
Digital equity—or, digital opportunity, if you prefer—is having a moment. The US is making an unprecedented investment to ensure that individuals and communities have the capacity to fully participate in our society and economy. This is a huge undertaking with momentous implications on the future of the Nation. Each state has been asked to envision how life there can be transformed by achieving digital equity.
Households in rural America are overcoming significant headwinds as they sign up for the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) benefit at a higher rate than urban counterparts. Through April 2023, ACP enrollment data shows that: 15% of all rural households have enrolled in ACP and 14% of households in metro or urban areas have enrolled in the benefit. Even this modest difference is striking given the tensions that buffet rural residents as they consider enrolling in ACP.
The Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) has allocated funding to all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and five territories to deploy affordable, reliable high-speed Internet service to everyone in America. States, Washington (DC), and territories will use funding from the $42.45 billion Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) program from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act to administer grant programs within their borders.
The Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) is at an inflection point. Launched in early 2022, ACP provides 17 million households up to $30/month in subsidies to offset the cost of broadband. But the program faces two critical challenges. First, less than a third of eligible households currently participate in the program—mainly because the people who could benefit most from the subsidy are unaware that it exists. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC), local governments, and digital equity groups are stepping up efforts to improve ACP awareness and participation.
After a year of operation, half of all households eligible for the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) internet subsidy are unaware of the benefit. A January 2023 survey of low-income households finds that over 50% say they have never heard of the program or do not know anything about it. Although many eligible households are unaware of ACP, the survey points to ways in which policymakers and community leaders can encourage enrollment. First, outreach can make a difference.
Fitting the monthly cost of a broadband subscription into a low-income household budget is difficult, to say the least, because of the costs of competing necessities like lodging, food, and healthcare. These financial pressures—and unexpected expenses—keep too many people in the U.S. from subscribing to home broadband service—or cause them to drop service at times to make ends meet. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Congress recognized these obstacles for low-income people and created a program—first called the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program—to reduce the monthly costs of connectivity.
Biden-Harris Administration Announces Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri and Utah to Receive Nearly $1 Billion in American Rescue Plan Funds to Increase Access to Affordable, High-Speed Internet
The Department of Treasury approved broadband projects in an additional six states under the American Rescue Plan’s Capital Projects Fund Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri and Utah. Together, these states will use their funding to connect more than 180,000 homes and businesses to affordable, high-speed internet.
The pandemic spurred policymakers and community leaders around the country to create programs to connect those without home broadband service or computers. These programs have had an impact. New government data show sharp increases in broadband and computer adoption in the 2019-to-2021 time frame. Initiatives such as the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) have helped address “subscription vulnerability” for low-income households. With progress evident, it is time to extend and build on the ACP and local affordability programs.