The Secret Behind the ACP’s Enrollment Success

By: Ryan Skukowski, Associate Director of Broadband Access

When the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) announced in February that it would begin taking steps to wind down the federal Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP), it was devastating news to those in the digital equity community. In particular, it was a blow to the over 23 million households across the country who rely on the ACP for low-cost internet, and the hundreds of digital navigators who worked relentlessly over the past two years to get them enrolled. As the FCC confirmed earlier this month, absent additional funding from Congress, April 2024 will be the last fully funded month for the ACP. As we face the potential end of ACP, it is worth reflecting on why so many people were able to easily enroll in such a short time.  

When BDT jumped into the ACP arena just over a year ago, we set a goal to inform 130,000 likely eligible households about the program and how to apply. Today, at the peak of ACP participation, BDT has informed 171,788 likely eligible households (132% of our original goal) through text messages, letters, referrals from our outreach specialists, and the interactive voice recording people hear when they call our Benefits Centers.  

At BDT, we are enthusiastic advocates for streamlined eligibility and thus big fans of the National Verifier.

Ryan Skukowski
Associate Director of Broadband Access

In addition, BDT has contacted over 400 households who received our ACP referral and asked them to tell us more about their experience with the program. The results have been fascinating. One common refrain we’ve heard from clients is that they found the ACP application easy to use and were approved quickly for the benefit. Several clients specifically mentioned that they did not have to provide any documentation with their application, which made the process much easier. 

It is no coincidence that BDT has heard multiple responses like this from clients over the course of our ACP outreach. In fact, it is a credit to the infrastructure that supports ACP’s streamlined eligibility determinations – namely, a system called the National Verifier. 

Originally created to verify eligibility for the federal Lifeline program, which provides $9.25 per month to low-income Americans for voice and mobile data service, the National Lifeline Eligibility Verifier (National Verifier) checks federal and state databases to find out if ACP applicants are enrolled in another benefit program like SNAP, Medicaid, Pell Grant, or others, which automatically qualifies them for ACP. This means that when a Medicaid recipient applies for ACP, for example, the National Verifier matches their personally identifiable information (e.g., name, date of birth, last four social security digits) with the federal Medicaid database maintained by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. If a match is found, the applicant is automatically qualified for ACP.  

The National Verifier also maintains connections with many state eligibility databases to perform the same type of matching for SNAP recipients, increasing the likelihood of ACP enrollment. The more states that add these types of database connections, the better the National Verifier's automated eligibility check becomes. 

This system of automated database connections saves applicants' time; each positive database match means one fewer applicant who needs to submit physical proof of eligibility like a benefit card or letter. Reducing application “friction” increases the likelihood that the applicant will complete the process, get qualified, enroll with an internet service provider, and begin using their benefit. 

The National Verifier has also enabled the ACP to be successful by supporting a common (and extensive) list of qualifying programs across all states and territories. In turn, this broad list of qualifying programs eliminates the need for applicants to complete an interview, unlike other benefit applications (e.g., SNAP). In fact, compared to SNAP and Medicaid, which can take days or even weeks to make eligibility decisions, the National Verifier provides ACP applicants real-time eligibility decisions when a database connection to a qualifying program is available. Together, these features reduce the burden on government staff and provide a more seamless experience for applicants. 

At BDT, we are enthusiastic advocates for streamlined eligibility and thus big fans of the National Verifier. It is a good example of how database connections can be leveraged to streamline eligibility across programs, and since it is seldom talked about, BDT developed a fact sheet on the National Verifier. This fact sheet draws upon publicly available information to give those in the public benefits space a simple guide to this compelling eligibility system. We encourage you to take a look and consider how such a model could inform your own work or improve your benefit program. 

National Verifier Overview
Download the Fact Sheet

As BDT and our fellow digital equity partners await action from Congress to renew ACP funding, it is worth remembering the wisdom that comes with the changing seasons: hope springs eternal. Though the ACP may end in the near term, we expect it – or a successor program – to return. After all, 23 million households have already proven the necessity of affordable broadband for healthcare, education, work, social connection, and so much more.