When the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) launched in January, it kicked off a historic opportunity to achieve digital equity and connect millions of families to essential opportunities to learn, work, and participate in the digital world. This benefit helps families afford a high-speed internet connection – a necessity in the 21st century. The program’s $14.2 billion investment enables us to realize the potential of a more fully connected society to improve people’s health, educational and employment opportunities. From the increasing prevalence of telehealth and virtual learning to job hunts and nurturing new or old relationships, many of the most important aspects of our lives require an internet connection.
The ACP, which provides eligible households a discount of up to $30 per month toward internet service, is the nation’s largest ever broadband affordability effort. Almost one year since its launch, more than 15 million households have enrolled and are receiving assistance to pay for their internet service, thanks to the collaborative efforts to make people aware of the benefit by community-based organizations, advocacy groups, businesses, and local, state and federal governments. Yet more than two-thirds of the estimated 48 million total eligible households have not yet enrolled in the ACP.
Benefits Data Trust (BDT) is proud to launch the first phase of a multi-year effort to promote ACP participation nationally, thanks to initial philanthropic support from Comcast, as part of their Project UP initiative to advance digital equity. Our approach includes a combination of directly informing eligible individuals; supporting federal policy and practice change; and equipping government agencies, colleges, and others with tools and actionable recommendations based on our nearly 20 years of work to increase access to other benefit programs. For example, we know from experience that data sharing among government agencies that administer benefits like SNAP and Medicaid as well as proactive outreach result in more equitable access for those already eligible for help. That support, in turn, can improve the quality of life for financially struggling families. The same is true for the ACP, and it is critical for federal and state agencies that administer benefits to proactively reach out to eligible low-income households to connect them to the broadband program.
Every day at Benefits Data Trust, our team of outreach specialists speaks with hundreds of likely eligible families and individuals who call our contact center seeking assistance with programs that can help them pay for food, heat, healthcare and other vital needs. Over the next year, we will leverage our contact center and outreach strategies to inform at least 130,000 likely eligible households about the ACP and how to apply.
Another way we seek to connect people to the ACP is by working with government agencies to use data they already have to help low-income families and individuals quickly and easily access the benefit. Many of those missing out on this assistance are already participating in other programs like SNAP, WIC, Veterans Pensions, and Medicaid, or they are recipients of federal Pell Grants, all of which make them automatically eligible for the ACP. BDT will engage federal, state, and local agencies and institutions of higher education to improve access to the ACP through accessible application processes and other policy and practice options.
In coordination with our ACP efforts, early next year we will release a toolkit, which was highlighted by the White House during the recent Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health to help higher education institutions identify college students eligible for public benefits, including the ACP.
This initial work marks a significant step forward, and we recognize much more is needed to reach the greater goals of closing the digital divide and removing barriers to economic opportunity and mobility. To lead this effort, we are currently hiring for an Associate Director of Broadband Access.
Our Philanthropy Team is currently seeking additional funding to further increase awareness of and participation in the ACP. To learn more about BDT’s ACP work and impact supporting enrollment in other benefits, contact firstname.lastname@example.org