- Only a quarter of 51.6 million eligible households have enrolled in the $14.2 billion Affordable Connectivity Program — a federal broadband benefit program funded by the 2021 Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, according to a report released Wednesday by nonprofit EducationSuperHighway.
- For those who tried to enroll, the report found, 45% saw their applications rejected and even more households failed to complete the 30- to 45-minute enrollment process.The program provides households up to $30 per month for internet service and $100 for a one-time discount to buy a laptop, desktop computer or tablet.
- Spreading awareness, building trust and making it easier for individuals to apply for this program would help “crack the code” to connect the 17.7 million eligible households that still lack internet access, said EducationSuperHighway Founder and CEO Evan Marwell. School district leaders can help in these efforts, too, he said.
“It’s good that there’s 3 million new people. On the other hand, we’re at 25% adoption,” Marwell said. “Most of the people who have signed up for the Affordable Connectivity Program — and I’m talking 90% plus — were people who already had internet access.”
The point of the program is to close the digital divide, he said, but “it’s not really doing that.”
In August, the Federal Communications Commission established an outreach grant program to help increase ACP enrollment. The FCC has dedicated up to $100 million for these outreach efforts over the next five years.
School districts can also help remove barriers for families that rely on free and reduced-price school meals by providing them with a letter backing up their proof of eligibility, Marwell said. That proof alone can qualify a family for the broadband benefits program, he said.
Among the 45% of applicants rejected from the Affordable Connectivity Program, Marwell said, 87% of those individuals did not have the right documents to prove their eligibility.
Marwell pointed to success in two Massachusetts school districts — Springfield and Worcester — that EducationSuperHighway has worked extensively with on building awareness about the program. As a result, those two cities have Affordable Connectivity Adoption rates twice as high as the statewide adoption rate, Marwell said.